Wisconsin sports betting regs lagging behind neighbors

Sep 19, 2019 3:00 AM

Everywhere Wisconsin looks, it is there. 

To the southwest in Iowa, directly south in Illinois, and around the bend of Lake Michigan in Indiana. All three states have passed laws legalizing sports betting, and in the cases of Iowa and Indiana, accepting wagers on sporting events. 

In some ways, Wisconsin and Minnesota face the same hurdles when it comes to legalizing sports betting because it requires the buy-in of Native American tribes who operate the casinos in both states. Where the two diverge to a degree is in terms of progress. Minnesota has had one bill pass through a state senate committee and another one trying to get to be heard on the state house floor.  

Wisconsin, however, not seen such progress, and it may be a while before it does. 

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“The dynamic for Wisconsin is that gambling only exists in tribal gaming outside lottery,” said Peter Schoenke, a lobbyist and Chairman of the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association. “Those states have not been adopters of sports betting, and the tribal interests need to figure out what to do. They’re scared of online sports betting and have generally taken a defensive posture for sports betting. For Wisconsin, that makes the dynamic of sitting back to wait and see.” 

Unlike Minnesota, in which the tribes appear to be speaking under one voice with the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, Wisconsin’s 11 tribes do not appear to have settled on a universal position or aligned themselves. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state of New Jersey to legalize sports betting on a state-by-state basis in May 2018, there was no push on the part of the tribes – most notably Oneida, Ho-Chunk, and Potawatomi – to alter their current landscape. 

A further obstacle for Wisconsin is the legal process itself since the state constitution prohibits gambling. In order to unwind that, a bill would have to pass through two consecutive sessions of legislature and then be part of a statewide referendum. If the tribes wish to expand into sports betting, they would have to re-open the compact it has with the state, which could dramatically affect the payments the tribes make to the state. The last payment in the 2017-18 fiscal year was $53 million, and that figure could fall if they no longer had exclusivity. 

Still, Schoenke thinks it is a matter of time before some movement takes place, especially with Iowa reporting nearly $150,000 in tax revenues from just the first 17 days after sports betting became available. And with Dubuque less than a two-hour drive from the state capital of Madison, the competition for tourism dollars is well underway. 

“The problem for Wisconsin is that has is a lot of pressure with Iowa, Indiana and in Illinois,” Schoenke observed with regards to the short-term future of the next six to 12 months. “There will be a lot of people who drive to the border and visit other casinos and places of business. 

“It’s a lot of tax revenue states that are not being collected and hurting Wisconsin casinos. People are making road trips and that puts pressure on Wisconsin.” 

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