Will Legalization of Wisconsin Online Sports Betting Require Constitutional Amendment

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 20, 2024 08:00 PM
Will Legalization of Wisconsin Online Sports Betting Require Constitutional Amendment

 

Ever since Wisconsin sports betting launched in November 2021 at tribal operated brick-and-mortar locations, the focus has remained on expansion. Mainly, most want to know when Wisconsin online sports betting will also be legalized.

Of course, many have wondered—and continue to wonder—whether on-site sports gambling in the Dairy State will ever meaningfully expand. As of now, fewer than 10 locations offer sports wagering in Wisconsin. That’s nowhere near enough to service a state that ranks 20th in total population, with over 5.9 million residents, according to StatsAmerica.org. 

The latter figure matters a great deal. Placing 20th in total population doesn’t turn too many heads. It barely ranks inside the top half of the United States. But when you throw out the term “millions,” everything changes.

Something similar happens when you consider the rich collection of pro sports teams in Wisconsin. Indeed, Wisconsin isn’t currently  top sports betting market in the United States. But this seems to be an issue of access rather than appeal. The Dairy State is home to the Green Bay Packers (NFL), Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) and Milwaukee Brewers (MLB). And this says nothing of the big-time Division 1 NCAAB and NCAAF programs at multiple universities in the state. 

To be sure, sports betting in Wisconsin does not profile as one of the five biggest markets in the USA. At least a handful of states supersede them, including a few that have not legalized sports betting. If and when Wisconsin legalizes online sports betting, though, it sure feels as if they could emerge as a top-10 to top-12 market. That brings us back to the now years-old question: What will it take to legalize online sports gambling in the Dairy State?

Let’s Clarify Current Wisconsin Online Sports Betting Laws

Before we go any further, let’s first consider the current state of online Wisconsin sports betting. Many assume it’s completely illegal. To some extent, that’s correct. However, thanks to the present gaming compact, certain tribal operators have the ability to offer a Wisconsin online sports betting application to customers. Bart Shirley explained how this works for Legal Sports Report:

“Any online sports betting must occur on reservation lands or other properties associated with the tribes offering an app. There are currently no apps offering online sports betting promos statewide. Because the Oneida tribe owns an additional casino property and more than a half-dozen truck stops around the Green Bay area, the tribe took the unusual step of offering a sports betting app. Based upon the language of the compact, the lands of those stores qualify as valid areas for online sports betting. Thus, besides the main casino area, you may place online sports bets at any of the Oneida One-Stops nearby.” 

In many ways, there bears resemblance to how sports betting in Florida is set up. The Seminole Tribe holds gaming exclusivity inside the Sunshine State. This has allowed them to operate an online Florida sports betting app despite the fact that other top online sportsbooks in the United States aren’t permitted to enter the market.

That’s basically the setup for the Oneida tribe in Wisconsin, except they do not have gaming exclusivity. Other tribes can (and have) joined the fold. So, what will it take to expand online sports betting sites throughout Wisconsin?

The Road to Legal Mobile Sports Betting in the Dairy State is Complicated 

Most don’t realize that Wisconsin sports betting isn’t legal in the general sense. Online sportsbooks aren’t legal. The same goes for retail locations. Only tribal gaming is legal. That’s how Wisconsin was able to allow on-site sports betting without technically legalizing the general practice.

This will have to change if and when the state looks to join the nearly 30 others that allow mobile wagering. And that means it’ll take a constitutional amendment to get the job done—a steep ask.

Approval for online Wisconsin betting sites will first require two-thirds majority support in both the House and Senate chambers. From there, any initiative must appear on a general election ballot and then be ratified by state residents. Then, and only then, can online sports betting be offered throughout the Dairy State.

If that process sounds laborious, that’s because it is. And it raises another question: What’s a potential timeline for online sports gambling sites to start operating in Wisconsin?

Timeline for Wisconsin Online Sports Betting Must be Measured in Years

Pinning down a specific timeline for online wagering to arrive in Wisconsin remains tricky. Not only must a constitutional amendment clear a number of hurdles, but lawmakers actively have to pursue it.

Thus far, this hasn’t happened. There is currently no online sports betting bill on the table at the moment. It isn’t yet clear when (or if) that’ll change. State officials continue to seem more interested in letting the tribal sports betting market marinate and (slowly) expand. 

With that said, many key stakeholders believe it’s only a matter of time before Wisconsin embraces online betting sites. This includes those in charge of running tribal operations. In fact, Potawatomi Casino Hotel’s CEO Dominic Ortiz is on record as calling legalization “inevitable.” 

Still, “matters of time” can take a while. As of now, Wisconsin won’t give the green light to online wagering before 2026. And if we’re being honest, that timeline feels ambitious. Something like 2028, 2030 or beyond feels more realistic.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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