Social gambling is exempt from strict Colorado laws |

Social gambling is exempt from strict Colorado laws

Rohn Robbins
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” With the Super Bowl in our rearview mirrors and March Madness just up the road, I thought it was a good time to take a peek at “social” gambling.

First of all, come clean ” even you guys and gals with badges on your chests.

Chances are, at one time or another, you’ve dipped your toes in an office pool or slung a deck around a penny- ante poker game. What about the Colorado Lottery, Powerball or the Irish Sweepstakes?

Can you throw money after hors-es, dogs, or gamble a quarter for a prize when a carnival hits town? Why can you spin a roulette wheel in Black Hawk but throwing craps in your back alley is verboten? What is going on here?

First, gambling in Colorado may be defined as risking any money or other thing of value for gain based upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event during which the person taking a risk has no control.

There are exceptions an impor-tant one of which is engaging in “any game, wager, or transaction that is inci-dental to a bona fide social relationship is participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling.”

You’re thinking, ” Whew! When I was throwing down aces over kings at the Sons of Gambling Charity Gambling Days, and piling my winnings to the sky, everything was copacetic.” Maybe not.

Cards and wagering games ” con-ducted even as part of a charitable fundraising event ” may still be consid-ered gambling. What about the bona-fide- social relationship exception? Like so many things in law, it depends.

Part of the definition of a social rela-tionship requires that the gaming take place only between natural persons and that no professional gambling is involved. In at least one Colorado case, where charity gaming was conducted at the Central City Opera House, even though script money redeemable only for bidding power at a charitable auction was used, the gaming was held to be ille-gal.

The reason was the opera associa-tion’s conduct in running the games con-stituted a level of participation by other than a natural person and the association intended to derive profit from the event.

In another Colorado case, a March Madness betting pool at a bar was held to be permissi-ble where the betting pool was incidental to the amusement of regular patrons who had a legit-imate relationship of coming to the bar for drink and conversa-tion with friends.

The bar, the court held, while not a natural person, did not participate in the patrons’ pool by safekeep-ing the money, making a bet-ting grid with the bar’s logo, and making incidental profits, from the pool.

Wagering on a golf match, participated in and bet on by the participants, has been upheld as permissible on the theo-ry that each golfer had control over the outcome by his or her play and, as such, the betting is not founded upon chance.

Similarly, a poker game between friends at the home of one of the players has been held to be “social gambling” and, as such, exempt from the strict def-initions of the law.

Limited gaming in Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek is specifically permitted in the Colorado Constitution, thanks to voters. Betting on greyhounds and horses also is permitted ( and limit-ed) by law. The state lottery is another voter- approved form of gambling, and bingo is permitted by licensees with a laundry list of limitations.

So the question remains, will you plunk down your hard- earned money on your dear- old alma mater when March Madness rolls around?

Bet you will.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Associa-tion Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He can be heard 7 p.m. Wednesdays on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as the host of “Community Focus.” He can be reached at 926-4461 or at


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