Wisconsin Casinos Looking to Enter Legal Sports Betting Market

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 4, 2022 08:00 PM
Wisconsin Casinos Looking to Enter Legal Sports Betting Market

When Wisconsin officially rolled out legal sports betting back in November, it limited the offerings within the state to only a handful of operators, most of which were located inside the major hubs of Green Bay and Milwaukee. Months later, though, tribal-owned casinos are looking to enter the sports-betting industry as they try to both breaks into a new market and continue recovering from a peak of the coronavirus pandemic that threatened to cripple them.

The current model for legal sports betting in Wisconsin is what you would call restrictive. Yes, it has greenlit on-site and online gambling. But it has also given sportsbooks licenses to a smattering of businesses and locations, most of which are located in Green Bay or Milwaukee. A few months into the new world order, however, Wisconsin casinos are now pushing back against this policy and looking to enter the legal sports betting market.

And now, the question on everyone's mind is the same: Will they be successful?

Many believe they will be. As of late April, Wisconsin was supposed to expand their sportsbook options for bettors in due time. It just remains to be seen whether that time has actually come. If it hasn't Wisconsin casinos may be compelled to diversify their revenue streams to rebuild themselves following the pinnacle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why Wisconsin Casinos Want to Enter Sports Betting Market

Just so we're clear: There are casinos in Wisconsin with the ability to accept sports bets. Sports betting debuted in Wisconsin back in December 2021 at the Oneida Casino in Milwaukee. The St. Croix Casino in Danbury also opened up a sportsbook in April 2022. The Potawatomi tribe is expected to build a casino-hotel complex in Milwaukee at some point that will come replete with a sportsbook, as well.

Still, Wisconsin has so far limited the opening of brick-and-mortar venues to only a small gaggle of tribes, and they've currently prevented any non-tribal operations from setting up shop, period. For example, the Ho Chunk Casino, operated by the Ho Chunk Nation, does not have the ability to accept bets at its establishment or set up an online betting system. Of the 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin, only a minority actually have the capacity to open up sportsbooks in any form.

This is considered problematic by the impacted tribes for obvious reasons. As Marlon WhiteEagle, president of the Ho Chunk Nation, told PBS Wisconsin: "We were hit pretty hard by the pandemic. And that begs the question of what we can do to move beyond gaming."

Moving beyond gaming has proved difficult for some. Different tribes have dabbled in hemp ventures or turned to real estate investments. They haven't always been successful. And tribes like Ho Chunk Nation likely don't believe they should be exploring those measures in the first place, when there's an alternative form of gaming (sports betting) available to some of their rivals already.

Online Transactions Impacting All Casinos Across Wisconsin

It isn't just the casinos without sportsbooks that are being impacted by the current state of gaming. All brick-and-mortar operations are reeling on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic.

What was an increasingly digital world in the first place has only moved further in that direction since the United States initially went into lockdown. People aren't as inclined to rely on in-person interactions for tasks and services that can be completed online. Are they still likely to attend a sporting event? Sure. But much like people have increased the frequency with which they have groceries or meals delivered instead of going to supermarkets and restaurants, the gaming industry has seen a massive shift to their online revenue stream.

Reopening the economy has done little to slow this trend. Even though the Ho Chunk Nation notes their casino revenue is actually up compared to where it was pre-pandemic, the in-person aspect of the business now accounts for a smaller portion of their profits. It is forcing them, along with every other tribe, to rethink how they conduct business.

And this isn't just a matter of tweaking the methods by which they offer services. It's threatening plans for expansion. The Ho Chunk Nation is supposed to break ground on a massive and sprawling $405 million casino-and-hotel project in Beloit, Wisconsin. They do not intend to scuttle the project entirely, but they are designing the complex to ensure it can be used as an educational or healthcare center in the event the resort itself doesn't succeed in boosting their game revenue.

Online Sports Betting Could Be Solution

Online sports betting looms over all the issues currently facing Wisconsin casinos and tribes. Many believe that if they were simply able to accept sports wagers online, their problems would be solved. And if Wisconsin is already traveling to lengths to restrict the power of larger online corporations, allowing tribal casinos to extend their reach seems like it should be a no-brainer.

Then again, setting up online infrastructures requires a lot of time and money. In many instances across other states, tribal casinos have needed to partner with bigger, more established sportsbooks to streamline and optimize their online processes. So if Wisconsin expands their current online betting policy, it could set a precedent for the conglomerates to wedge their way into the business, as well.

Perhaps your response to all of this is "Who cares?" Well, Wisconsin clearly does. They're trying to limit the amount of business that gets funneled outside the tribal operations. But being overly restrictive isn't necessarily the way to do that. Not only are they alienating tribes currently within the state, but they're not exactly preventing bets from being placed elsewhere. State residents can technically find an odds provider from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks and use one of them instead of going exclusively to the Oneida tribe.

Really, then, by opening up its sports betting offerings, Wisconsin only stands to ensure more of the revenue stream actually makes its way through the state-approved pipeline. All of this means tribes like Ho Chunk Nation should be granted more leniency on the sports betting front sooner rather than later.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use for all of your sports betting needs:

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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