Wisconsin looks to cash in with sports betting

The Badger State should get a boost after altering its gaming compact with tribal casinos to allow sports wagering.

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This year alone, nine states already have written $1 billion worth of legal sports-wagering tickets.

This year alone, nine states already have written $1 billion worth of legal sports-wagering tickets.

John Locher/AP

LAS VEGAS — Wisconsin finally noticed the numbers.

That Illinois set a record, of 16 months, in recording its first $5 billion in sports-betting business, breaking New Jersey’s previous standard by two months.

In this calendar year, nine states have written $1 billion worth of legal sports-wagering tickets. Football will push Iowa across that 10-digit goal line.

Since May 2018, when the Supreme Court let states seal their own sports-betting fates, $635 million in tax revenue has been generated in those jurisdictions.

Hundreds of millions. Billions. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers noticed. He surprised many on July 1 by announcing alterations to the state’s gaming compact with the Oneida Nation that allow it to take sports bets.

Its brick-and-mortar operations might write tickets before the Packers’ opener Sept. 12 in New Orleans.

Not long ago, someone close to the Badger State’s political machinery informed me that those officials would “never” inquire about sports-betting possibilities with their tribal casinos.

They wouldn’t jeopardize current revenue streams with their native associates, those politicos believed, should sports betting be a losing proposition. However, they’ve learned about the house’s edge and tax windfalls.

David Carney, the award-winning sports talk-show host at WKTY in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is tuned to the state’s sports-wagering pulse, and he didn’t see this on the horizon.

“Not really, but it makes some sense,” he said. “Wish it was more all-encompassing, but it’s on a good track.”

If Wisconsin can succumb to the sports-betting elixir, then what about California, Texas, Hawaii and Utah?

OVER 45½

No, not Utah. The Beehive State’s constitution forbids gambling.

On industry watchdog SportsHandle’s interactive map of states and the degree to which each is, or might be, involved with sports betting, “never” accompanies Utah.

Thirty-one jurisdictions (30 states and Washington, D.C.) have legalized sports betting; some are not yet live. Wisconsin could technically check in at No. 32, although Florida might swipe that number and push the Badger State to No. 33.

It’s a fluid landscape as news breaks frequently about one state’s prospects and another’s failures. Out of nowhere, a Wisconsin hogs the headlines.

The Sunshine State got the green light from the Department of the Interior, the federal branch that lords over tribal compacts and is expected to rubber-stamp the new Wisconsin-Oneida amendments.

Legal challenges, though, are expected in Florida because that deal allows the Seminole Tribe to accept bets off-property, via mobile apps. That jurisprudence could affect Wisconsin, even California.

(The Oneida pact prohibits betting on in-state collegiate programs, to which Carney alluded. A similar Illinois restriction will eventually be extinguished; watch Wisconsin follow suit.)

In California, a Florida-like ballot-measure proposal is being floated in conjunction with an upcoming recall election. In Texas, it won’t be broached again until 2023.

Three years ago, Westgate SuperBook executive vice president Jay Kornegay told me he expected 42 or 43 states to legalize sports betting within a few years. Thirteen states have ongoing legislation. On Monday, Kornegay set a firm Over/Under figure of 45½, by May 31, 2022.

Idaho, South Carolina, Alaska and Hawaii have no current legislation, according to SportsHandle. Wisconsin, though, had very recently been on that list, too.


Hawaii is a curious case study. So many of its natives have relocated to, and visit, Vegas, it is known as The Ninth Island. In décor and cuisine, the California Hotel and Casino downtown caters to Hawaiians.

The Hawaiian influence here is the foundation of a youth football program that feeds Liberty High, which upended 10-time defending state-champion Bishop Gorman in 2019 en route to its first title.

The Patriots perform The Haka, with intimidating warlike chants and waggling tongues, before every game as a nod to the community’s rich Polynesian heritage.

So I rang Big Paulie, a lifelong pal who has lived on the Big Island for 20 years, to gauge the pulse of island betting. Fluid landscape? He’s building a home near Hilo in Lava Zone 2.

Dog and cock fighting thrive here, he said, in fiercely protected arenas. He knows locals who wager $20,000 on a single outcome.

“They are so highly illegal and despised by the majority,” Big Paulie said, “that they only talk about it among themselves. They don’t let strangers in.”

On Oahu, he said, authorities often bust Asian-influenced illegal game rooms.

The pandemic zapped Oahu’s tourism, and the budget for a 20-mile elevated railway project has soared overboard, at $12 billion and counting.

The Boondoggle Express is cartoonish. When the carriages were delivered, their wheels were too narrow for the tracks. It might open in 2033.

Even the executive director for the rail authority, Lori Kahikina, admitted, “We haven’t been open, honest [or] transparent.”

In such a quagmire, in the only other state with a Utah-like constitution that forbids gambling, an online sports-betting pilot program has been discussed. But it’s on island time.

Hawaii is on my “Never” list. However, because mainland business is booming, I bet the Over with Kornegay. Two slices of pepperoni and a cherry Coke.

Perfect for both of our budgets.

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