Patrick Neville and Alec Garnett

House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, left, and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver discuss their bill to let voters decide whether to legalize and tax sports betting in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Channel via YouTube)

The Colorado House made short work of a debate over expanded gambling Tuesday night.

House Bill 1327 authorizes a November ballot question to ask voters statewide to allow sports betting in exchange for a 10 percent tax.

The money, potentially $20 million a year, would support the state's water conservation plan and other causes, including $130,000 a year to help gambling addicts.

The games would be limited to 33 licenses sold to existing gambling operators in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, the three cities where gambling has been legal since 1991.

The brick-and-mortar casinos would set up online betting and mobile apps. 

"I think if we actually bring it in and regulate it in a decent manner, we will eliminate the black market," said House Republican leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, a co-sponsor of the legislation. "This will be a source of revenue, with the majority of that revenue going to fund the Colorado water plan."

Only Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, was against it, and he's a sports gambler. His concerns are technical issues, leaving existing off-track-betting counters out of the deal and what he saw as a lack of input from gamblers.

Legislators who said they normally wouldn't vote to support more gambling said the statewide vote convinced them to support House Bill 1327.

"This is going to the ballot," said Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City. "And the people should have a right to vote on it."

The legislation still must pass a recorded roll call vote in the House before it can go to the Senate to start over, as the days wind down toward the May 3 adjournment.

Western Slope legislators urged passage of the bill and support for the ballot measure in November. The millions of dollars the games generate would support water projects that help stretch out the state's supply in the face of growth and persistent drought.

As cities buy up water rights once used by farms, the state's agriculture industry withers.

"Bet on the Broncos, save a farmer," said Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta.

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