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Monday, October 25, 2021
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With states across the Midwest opening legal sports books, legislators like Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, R-Plymouth, are hoping to do the same to keep revenue in Wisconsin.  

Wisconsin lawmakers want a seat at the table for legal sports gambling

States can now decide to legalize sports gambling after a 2018 Supreme Court decision — and some Wisconsin lawmakers want to get in on the action. 

Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, R-Plymouth, believes legalization would yield financial benefits — it would keep money in the state instead of losing potential revenues to other border states that legalized sports gambling.

Illinois, Iowa and Indiana legalized sports gambling, while Minnesota and Michigan legislators are considering similar moves. The accessibility that Wisconsinites have to easily cross state lines to make bets is one big reason why Vorpagel hopes to change legislation. 

“It doesn’t make sense [for Wisconsin] if other states allow gambling and can capture Wisconsin dollars from people interested in gambling,” Vorpagel said. 

Despite this, Vorpagel realized it may not be a reality in the near future because the state constitution has a blanket prohibition on gambling. 

There are two major hoops to jump through to get any legislation passed: First, getting a bill passed through the Legislature requires two consecutive sessions, followed by a statewide referendum in order to change the state’s constitution. The second — and potentially more challenging step — would be negotiating with tribal casinos. 

Wisconsin’s 11 tribal nations operate 26 casinos — but they also are not allowed to offer sports betting. If a sports gambling bill is passed, the tribal nations would have to “renegotiate” their agreements with the state to include it, according to a report issued in June by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. 

Renegotiation would likely end payments for the exclusive right of gambling to the state from tribal nations amounting to $53 million during fiscal year 2017-’18, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

Some reports suggest the addition of sports gambling might not add as much to tax revenue as expected. Mississippi and Pennsylvania — two states that recently legalized sports gambling — brought in half of what they expected. Yet, Nevada brought in around $20 million from tax revenue despite nearly $5 billion worth of bets. 

Vorpagel said since the Supreme Court decision was only a year ago, there is not much data about revenue to compare to Wisconsin. However, he thinks legalizing gambling would bring financial benefits by allowing for more competition in the marketplace. 

Despite the long road ahead for any possible legalization, Vorpagel believes it’s something people are interested in. Across a lot of sports media, podcasts or TV networks, gambling shows are more mainstream and also increase the amount of people who watch sports. 

"I think that if we would amend the constitution and it went to the voters, I personally think it would pass," Vorpagel said

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