Tribe sues Colorado Governor over online sports betting regulation

Colorado Sports Betting Southern Ute Tribe
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A federally recognized tribe in Colorado is taking legal action over online sports betting concerns.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado over efforts by the state government and gaming officials to bring tribal gaming under state regulation. In 1993, the tribe entered into its first gaming compact in Colorado under the Indian Regulatory Act providing it with exclusive rights “to regulate and manage its own gaming” as long as the offerings are authorized.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is now arguing in court that the state government is disregarding its rights through an improper analysis of the gaming compact and its standards. The tribe cites multiple failed attempts to educate the state and its gaming officials on the matter, which has led to the decision to take action in federal court.

“Today, for the first time in decades, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has been forced to file a lawsuit in federal court against the state of Colorado because the administration refuses to honor express commitments the state made to the tribe,” Tribal Chairman Melvin J. Baker told the American Indian Affairs Interim Study Committee earlier this week.

The lawsuit has been filed against Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Division of Gaming Director Chris Schroder, who took the role in 2023 after Dan Hartman’s retirement.

Regulation in Colorado

According to the complaint, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe alleges Colorado made no effort to collaborate with the tribe before the authorization of online sports betting in the state in 2020. Since 1976, the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs has served as the liaison between the state government and the Ute tribe but the commission played no role in preparing the Southern Ute tribe for the arrival of regulated sports wagering. The tribe alleges the state is attempting to bring tribal gaming under state regulation for greed.

“The State’s disregard for the binding gaming compact is motivated by money,” says the complaint. “Sports betting regulated by Colorado is subject to a 10% tax, whereas no such tax could ever apply to tribal gaming under federal law. Therefore, the state sought to freeze the tribe out of internet sports betting.”

The Southern Ute Indian tribe alleges the state and its gaming officials are taking an “anti-sovereignty approach” to its gambling operations. The tribe has asked the court to consider whether its sports betting rules are fully compliant with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and whether its government-approved compact is being properly recognized.

It is also seeking an order enjoining continuing bad faith negations by Polis.

“Litigation is not something we like to do,” continued Baker. “We like to resolve our differences amicably. We have spent years trying to do so, but here we have no choice.”