Will a New Wisconsin Sportsbook Open Inside Milwaukee's Deer District?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Mar 4, 2024 07:00 PM
Will a New Wisconsin Sportsbook Open Inside Milwaukee's Deer District?

As sports betting in the United States continues to flourish, the current status of Wisconsin sports gambling is facing more and more scrutiny. From the outside looking in, many keep posing the same question: When will online sports betting in Wisconsin be legalized? Inside the market, though, analysts and industry sources have started pondering a separate issue: Will, and when, a Wisconsin sportsbook open inside Milwaukee’s Deer District?

For those who don’t know, the Deer District is a sports-venue hotspot in the biggest city hub of The Badger State. Per the city of Milwaukee’s official website, the Deer District is “comprised of thirty acres of mixed-use development and is considered one of Downtown Milwaukee’s central attractions. Anchored by Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks, a member team of the National Basketball Association (“NBA”), the District also includes the plaza, Entertainment Block, the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center, as well as a parking structure.” 

This part of the state also features plenty of restaurants, sports bars, shopping options and general entertainment venues. It is among the most densely populated hotel areas, as well—making it a convenient tourist destination. 

In Layman’s terms, the Deer District is the perfect place to open up another retail Wisconsin sportsbook. The benefits speak for themselves—and we’ll get into them. But do sports betting laws in Wisconsin currently allow for the opening of such an establishment? That’s a separate matter entirely.

Fans and Analysts Seem to be Pushing for a Wisconsin Sportsbook in the Deer District

This overarching issue was just tackled by 620 WTMJ, one of Wisconsin’s most popular radio stations. Here’s what the hosts of The Upswing show on the network recently had to say about adding a Wisconsin sportsbook to Milwaukee:

“Could we see a point in the future where there's another sportsbook alongside in The Deer District? Could that be something that we see down the road?...[Doesn’t] sports betting just sort of make the experience more immersive when you're watching? You're definitely paying attention, especially if you're on some games that you wouldn't normally watch. And I think it brings a little bit more excitement and again being responsible, that's what you can afford your whole, you don't advance your paycheck.

“There's a community building aspect to it, for sure for the teams. Obviously, as we look forward, I think there's need to be guardrails in terms of age gating and you know, there's lots of things to consider as we move into the future. Local companies.Atlas World Sports has a kind of a curated sports app that's bringing together the DraftKings and the FanDuels and the Caesars. There's another Wisconsin sportsbook company Cover Five that does kind of a ‘pick them by the spread’ on its app. So there's a lot of local companies that are in the space. And obviously, it would be really interesting to see how we continue to move forward in the sports betting world. It's a big moneymaker.”

Many within America’s Dairyland seem to be in favor of adding a Wisconsin retail sportsbook in Milwaukee’s Deer District. Indeed, the focus on Wisconsin sports betting expansion has yet to abate even as the state has actually broadened their operations. 

Challenges Await the Addition of a Sportsbook Operator in Milwaukee

To the state’s credit, they have added multiple casino sportsbook locations since their February 2022 sports wagering launch. Most recently, Kenosha County in Wisconsin approved the construction of a Hard Rock Casino that could—perhaps almost definitely will—feature a sportsbook section.

Still, sports betting operations in Wisconsin remain limited. Fewer than a half-dozen tribal locations are expected to be up and running by the end of 2025. That’s not a whole lot of options. Especially because Wisconsin online sportsbooks are restricted to on-casino-site betting apps.

That roadblock is by design. Tribes don’t want to compete with commercial Wisconsin sportsbooks. Plus, state officials have expressed concern over the accessibility of legal Wisconsin online sportsbooks. Reports of problem gambling tend to inflate in regions that introduce the service. And though the state can allocate money to preventative and treatment programs, there is no perfect solution.

To that end, officials have expressed minimal interest in opening Wisconsin sportsbooks outside of casinos. Heck, even the approval of a Hard Rock Casino in Kenosha County came by the skin of its teeth. And that raises the following question…

What Will It Take To Get a Wisconsin Sportsbook in the Deer District?

The answer here, while not entirely simple, can go one of two ways. 

Under current laws governing the operation of a Wisconsin sportsbook, it seems like the state would need to permit the construction of a casino inside Milwaukee’s Deer District. This, in theory, meets the requirements of gaming exclusivity presently held by state tribes. However, it is beyond unlikely a Wisconsin casino opens in the Deer District, at least in the near future. Tribes might leap at the opportunity, but the resistance to casinos elsewhere suggests it’s an upward battle.

More likely, Wisconsin sports betting laws must change to allow retail sportsbooks to operate inside the state. This allows for a more sports-bar experience rather than an establishment that also features slots and table games. It is also the blueprint local sports teams—most notably the Milwaukee Bucks—would favor.

And yet, while this may be the most sensible option, that doesn’t make it especially likely. Again: State officials seem disinterested in changing the rules for Wisconsin sportsbooks—at least for now. 

Perhaps their stance shifts down the line. At the moment, though, we wouldn’t expect the Wisconsin sportsbook landscape to grow much, if at all, over the next couple of years.

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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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