Wisconsin is home to many dedicated sports fans.
It is home to a Big Ten University and the Green Bay Packers, who have won more national championships than any other team in the National Football League, sports games are a common staple for household entertainment. While the Badgers didn’t make the cut for March Madness 2023, Wisconsinites still make up a decent portion of the sports-watching audience, whether in person or tuning in on TV.
Despite the popularity of the industry across the state, Wisconsin has yet to formally legalize a significant income-maker associated with sports games — sports betting.
Sports betting is the practice of predicting the results of a sports match and placing a monetary wager on the outcome. The national ban on the practice was lifted in 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law banning commercial sports betting in the U.S.
Since then, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gambling on sports. With states bordering Wisconsin like Illinois and Iowa having legalized the practice, many in the Badger state are calling for their own government to follow suit. As of 2023, the Oneida Casino in Green Bay is the only place in Wisconsin where retail sports betting is offered.
As demand for sports betting rises, Wisconsin faces a hard choice — whether or not to legalize the practice state-wide.
The biggest argument for legalizing sports betting is an economic one. Sports betting proponents often highlight the financial profits states could rake in by legalizing the practice. Research conducted by the American Gaming Association found that legalizing sports betting across all 50 states could bring in over $8 billion in local taxes, and over $22.4 billion to the national GDP.
The AGA’s report also found that legal sports betting operations bring in jobs as well, with the Association estimating over $11 billion in total labor income nationally.
It’s also crucial to consider who might benefit from these labor profits. Native American tribal casinos and their significance stem from a long history of tribal independence and state suppression of Native American sovereignty. The land that most tribes were allocated in their reservations lacked decent arable soil or sufficient water sources, rendering forms of economic income such as farming unprofitable.
Since the 1990s, tribes in Wisconsin have established over two dozen Native American-operated casinos across the state that bring in over $1 billion dollars of net revenue annually. The state benefits economically from these profits as well — of this billion dollar profit, the Wisconsin government takes in about $50-100 million.
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For tribes, some positive impacts of casinos have been positive. Research shows that after four years of operation, tribes with working casinos saw a population increase of 11.5% in young adults, a 2.6% increase in adult employment and a 14% decline in the working poor. Legalizing sports betting for Native American casinos in Wisconsin could only increase these positive consequences for the state’s tribal population.
There are concerns about the consequences of sports betting, however. The most prominent of these are moral questions of gambling addiction.
Gambling is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” It is proven that compulsive gambling can harm personal relationships, interfere with one’s daily life and lead to financial problems such as bankruptcy.
Like any addiction, compulsive behavior such as sports betting can debilitate gamblers. But it is important to put this knowledge into context. There is no true way to ban all gambling, only regulated gambling. Ultimately, it might be safer to offer legal sports betting at established casinos, rather than run the risk of forcing gamblers underground. For those concerned about promoting addiction, the best course of action is to increase and endorse rehabilitation centers and resources rather than shutting down the conversation entirely by prohibiting a practice that will continue to occur regardless.
Sports betting is a challenging topic to broach. By capitalizing on legalized gambling, the economic potential for the state could bring in a new avenue of funding for policies that need more of the state’s budget to get off the ground. Legalizing sports betting could also disproportionately help tribal governments, which have been historically reliant on casinos to bring in income.
This said, the potential social harm of promoting sports betting cannot be wholly avoided and should not be overlooked — but the solution to mitigating the risk of betting on sports is not to prohibit the practice and punish those that take part, particularly when several states across the U.S. have lifted their own respective bans.
At the end of the day, sports betting is officially legal in the United States. Whether or not Wisconsin is to legalize it at the state level, those who want to play the odds on matches have an avenue to do so in other states. And regulating betting at the individual level is near impossible regardless of whether retail sports betting is allowed. The best option to maximize the benefits of sports betting while minimizing addiction is to raise awareness about the risk of gambling while funneling more funding into addiction rehabilitation centers.
Fiona Hatch ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science and international studies.
National Problem Gambling Helpline:
- Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling: