Wisconsin Legalizes In-Person Sports Betting In Surprising Tribal Compact Deal

Wisconsin Legalizes In-Person Sports Betting In Surprising Tribal Compact Deal article feature image

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Legal sports betting in Wisconsin could begin as early as this fall under a surprising deal struck between Gov. Tony Evers and the state’s Oneida Nation.

The new compact allows the tribe to open retail sportsbooks at their casinos. The federal Department of the Interior has 45 days from the official receipt of the new compact to approve the legal avenues that would permit sports betting.

"This is a historic day for our state and will serve as a major milestone for our state’s partnership with the Oneida nation for generations to come," Evers said during the compact signing ceremony Thursday.

If approved, the Oneida Nation said it will look to open its first sportsbooks by the 2021 football season, the tribe announced in a statement.

News Changes Wisconsin Sports Betting Hopes

Thursday’s compact announcement stunned many gaming industry analysts and observers. Wisconsin was among just a handful of states that had not seriously considered legal sports betting legislation.

With little political momentum in the three years since states were granted the right to legalize sports betting, there was no indication a deal was imminent or even likely. Evers said that the deal was a "half-year process," but neither the governor's office nor the tribe had given a public hint of a new compact or sports betting deal leading up to Thursday's announcement.

"This is a really shocking and exciting turn of events," John Holden, assistant professor at Oklahoma State, told the Action Network. “In terms of states legalizing sports betting many people, including myself, thought that Wisconsin would be the last or close to the last state, excluding Utah and Hawaii."

Details on Wisconsin Sports Betting

Sports betting will only be within the tribe’s gaming facilities. The Oneida Nation said in a statement Thursday that it will have kiosks and retail betting stations at select gaming properties and will allow mobile wagering exclusively on tribal lands.

The tribe expects to open a temporary sportsbook near its sports bar at its primary casino near Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport. The deal also permits future sportsbooks at the Oneida’s other properties, including its West Mason Street casino.

The deal allows bets on professional sports including football, basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer. Bettors can also wager on college sports, but not in-state programs such as the University of Wisconsin.

Evers said at Thursday’s signing ceremony that the compact permits the tribe to offer betting on the Academy Awards. Wisconsin would be one of the first states to permit betting on the Oscars and other awards programs.

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Tribal Gaming Impacts

Sovereign tribes and state governments are permitted by federal law to reach deals that outline specific betting options. Wisconsin is one of the first states to strike such a deal without involvement from the state legislature.

Federal law and ensuing court rulings have prohibited tribes from offering mobile sports betting beyond their sovereign tribal lands. Tribes in Michigan, Arizona and Connecticut have announced statewide mobile deals in their respective states but are doing so through government regulators and will be treated as though they are commercial entities.

Notably, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is seeking federal approval for what would be the first tribally-regulated statewide mobile sports betting option. If approved by the Interior Department, it could possibly open the door for tribal-run mobile wagering in other states.

In Wisconsin, the Oneida agreement could spark similar agreements with the state’s other gaming tribes. There are nearly two-dozen tribal gaming facilities in the state.

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