Will Wisconsin Sports Betting Earn Enough to Delay Legalization of Online Gambling?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Aug 30, 2023 12:00 AM
Will Wisconsin sports betting ultimately need to legalize online gambling?

As the second anniversary of sports betting in Wisconsin approaches, industry experts and insiders as well as key stakeholders are seizing the opportunity to reflect on how The Badger State has fared during their first 24 months with legal gambling. 

This, naturally, leads to a separate discussion on the future of Wisconsin online sports betting. Yet, despite the increased dialogue on the matter, the outlook remains the same as ever: Though Wisconsin sports betting probably won’t stick to on-site transactions forever, the approval and subsequent integration of online gambling remains a ways off. 

That hasn’t stopped people from attempting to cobble together some sort of timeline. And comments from key stakeholders have only fueled the speculation. For instance, this past spring, the CEO of Potawatomi Casino said Wisconsin online sports betting was an inevitability rather than a mere possibility. He also said that he doesn’t see the shift in gaming laws taking place for another 10 or 15 years, if not more.

Those comments, specifically, continue to get thrust under the spotlight today. Every discussion about the future of online sports betting in The Badger State invariably covers the 10-to-15-year timeline. Some think that’s too long. Others believe it will be even longer before Wisconsin adds online sports gambling.

Recently, the latter sentiment has started gaining more traction among officials, experts, insiders and just general sports betting enthusiasts. The reason? Wisconsin seems bent on attempting to permanently limit their sports betting offerings to retail locations. But is that a realistic endgame?

Is Wisconsin Sports Betting Really Going to be Limited to Retail Options for the Foreseeable Future? 

Wisconsin’s commitment to making retail gambling the present and future can seem hyperbolic. It’s not. Potawatomi Casino’s CEO has made that much clear. 

“It’s beyond the revenue,” Dominic Ortiz, the Potawatomi Casino CEO, said when asked about prospective revenue growth, essentially doubling down on his 10-to-15-year timeline comments, per WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. “You have to think about the long-term implications and positioning yourself for the state of Wisconsin.”

This focus on the long-term implications is nothing if not telltale. Wisconsin and their casinos are trying to figure out how they can make on-site sports betting more viable into the distant future. By doing so, they would ostensibly protect their current revenue stream and ensure tribal operators aren’t forced to compete stateside with the best online sportsbooks in the United States.

While this sounds good in theory, it will be difficult in practice. More than 75 percent of all legal sports bets placed in the USA last year were processed with an online operator. It might be a stretch to say retail locations are fighting a losing battle. At the same time, it sure seems like on-site operators must at least figure out how to exist in tandem with online options.

Will Retail Sports Betting in Wisconsin Earn Enough Revenue to Keep Calls for Online Gambling at Bay?

Answers to this question continue to elude, well, everyone.

For starters, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly outlined how they plan to maximize retail sports betting revenue. To date, they have mostly been focused on expanding their brick-and-mortar operations. Sports betting in Wisconsin is now available at materially more locations than it was when services first debuted, all the way back in 2021. 

Continuing that expansion will go a long way toward maximizing revenue streams. There are 26 casinos currently located in the state. The goal might be for every single one of them to eventually have a Wisconsin sports betting license. Granted, we don’t know this for sure. But it seems like a reasonable, if not the most likely, endgame under the circumstances.

Regardless of future plans, we don’t actually know how much sports betting revenue Wisconsin must generate to keep leaning further into the on-site model. The state has been extremely hush-hush when it comes to reporting their revenue. Right now, there is no public record of how Wisconsin sports betting revenue has been generated since November 2021. 

We know the region in which the state is located has fared quite well, generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. But that data incorporates multiple states.

Why is Sports Betting Revenue for Wisconsin so Scarce?

Some have interpreted the absence of sports betting revenue data to mean that Wisconsin is currently whiffing on projections. We’re skeptical.

That might have been the case during the inaugural year. Retail sports betting wasn’t as available or accessible as it is now. But we’d be surprised if that were the case during the second year of the Wisconsin sports betting era

At the very least, The Badger State hasn’t come close to reaching their market cap. As Ortiz himself even noted, almost “90 percent” of all retail sports betting clientele end up being new customers. And whenever you’re generating that much first-time business, your model is typically on the way up. 

Make no bones about it, this is all speculation. We need concrete figures on Wisconsin sports betting revenue to draw definitive conclusions. For now, all we can do is guess. And in the absence of absolute certainty, our best guess is that Wisconsin’s commitment to developing the retail sports betting market will sustain for the foreseeable future. 

Does that mean it’ll be 15 years before online sports betting debuts? Perhaps. We might even say that’s the most likely outcome. For anyone hoping that changes, you should also hope all of the states surrounding Wisconsin incorporate online sports betting into their gaming laws. Pressure through popularity remains the most effective form of motivation in this industry. Wisconsin will be no different if all of their neighbors join the growing throng of states to offer online sports gambling.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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