As the implementation of legal sports betting throughout Wisconsin soldiers onward, industry experts and local officials are still focusing on one fundamental question: Has Illinois continued to eat into Wisconsin sports betting revenue?
Like always, the answer is complicated. And it is further muddied by how the rollout of sports betting in Wisconsin isn't even finished yet. They are still looking to expand the legal sports betting imprint throughout the state by awarding gaming licenses to more and more casinos. The Badger State won't truly know where it stands on gambling revenue for another year or so, once they've been fully operational on their own and have opened up enough sportsbooks.
And yet, from the moment sports betting in Illinois was legalized, they began knifing into Wisconsin's prospective revenue. At first, of course, it wasn't a big deal. Wisconsin didn't have sports betting and showed no real urgency to green light it. But things invariably changed.
Wisconsin closed out 2021 by introducing legal sports betting in a couple of casinos, and they now permit on-site wagering at a handful of other locations. Since then, they have also routinely outpaced their quarterly revenue projections. That suggests everything is peachy keen. And in some ways it is. Wisconsin has tapped into a revenue stream it wasn't using before.
However, recent analysis suggests they might still be leaving money on the table. Or rather, to be more specific, they might still be leaving money in Illinois.
How Illinois Cuts into Wisconsin's Sports Betting Revenue
Illinois was among the first places in the United States to dive head first into legal sports betting. They passed and signed a bill into law around June 2019 and then opened up the state's first retail sportsbook less than a year later, in March 2020. From that moment on, Illinois became a popular destination for Wisconsinites looking to bet on sports. After all, the two states are basically right on top of each other. Depending on where you live in Wisconsin or Illinois, it takes just a few minutes by car to cross the border into the other state.
Traveling from Illinois to Wisconsin was particularly popular at that time, even as the coronavirus reared its ugly head. You couldn't legally bet on sports in Wisconsin back then. Heading to one of Illinois's casinos was the most economic way of getting your gambling fix without going the offshore route.
But it wasn't just proximity that made the trip enticing. It was the manner in which Illinois allowed bets to be placed.
Unlike Wisconsin, Illinois legalized both in-person and online sports betting. And since mobile sports betting applications use geo-tracking data to determine your location, people from Wisconsin didn't actually need to enter an Illinois casino to place their bets. They simply needed to cross the state lines. At that point, they could download a popular mobile sports betting app, sign up for an account, make a deposit, place their bets and then head back to Wisconsin.
What's more, Wisconsinites didn't need to return to Illinois just to collect their winnings. Most mobile sports betting apps allow you to access a pre-registered account from wherever you are and process payouts. You just can't place any bets.
Why Are People from Wisconsin Still Betting in Illinois?
Everything outlined above made a ton of sense when Wisconsin didn't have sports betting. But now that they do...well, it still makes sense.
For starters, certain Illinois casinos remain a closer drive for some people who live in Wisconsin. Though the Badger State has licensed six casinos for sportsbooks so far, a chunk of those are still pending. If you live outside Milwaukee, there's a chance the roundtrip to an Illinois casino takes less time than visiting one of Wisconsin's own brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
Beyond that, there's no escaping the convenience of online sports betting in Illinois. The vast majority of bets placed in the United States are now processed online. As Chris Altruda, a sports betting analyst, recently told WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee when asked about Wisconsinites betting with Illinois betting apps: "Download the app and you can place a wager almost from start to finish within five minutes." He then went on to note that Illinois remains Wisconsin's "biggest competition" when it comes to sports betting revenue.
Wisconsin Needs Legal Online Sports Betting
Officials throughout Wisconsin are reportedly exploring solutions to address this longstanding issue. Frankly, though, they're likely to come up short. All of their measures so far have included pushing for more on-site sportsbooks. That doesn't even begin to address the problem.
To put it bluntly: Wisconsin isn't losing money to Illinois casinos (anymore). Wisconsin is losing money to Illinois sports betting apps. They are likely also losing additional money to other online sportsbooks. For instance, many of the sites that appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks allow people from Wisconsin to set up and service accounts without having to cross state lines.
If the Badger State wants this to change, then they'll have to change themselves. Online sports betting in Wisconsin needs to be legalized. Until it is, the state will continue losing mobile sports betting revenue to the neighboring Illinois and other competitors.
For now, however, it doesn't appear Wisconsin is on the verge of making that tweak. They have gaming compacts with various tribes, and the reason they only legalized on-site gaming in the first place was they were reluctant to let retail sportsbooks enter the market and pull money outside the state. The thing is, that's already happening. How long it takes Wisconsin to figure that out and make the proper adjustments is anyone's guess.
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: