Jeramey Jannene

Legal Sports Betting Begins in Milwaukee

Mayor Cavalier Johnson puts $20 down for first bet.

By - Mar 31st, 2023 11:19 am
Mayor Cavalier Johnson places his first bet. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson places his first bet. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino opened its sportsbook Friday morning, creating the first legal place in Milwaukee to bet on sports.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson placed the first bet, $20 on the Milwaukee Bucks to win the NBA Finals with +250 odds. If the team wins, Johnson could redeem his ticket to collect $70 ($50 in winnings).

“In this city, we have got a ton of excellent entertainment options,” said Johnson. But Johnson and casino CEO Dominic Ortiz said sports betting is something people have been clamoring for. Johnson said that adding a sportsbook to the existing casino would help Milwaukee’s entertainment offerings compete with other cities and states. He said adding the sportsbook was a matter of using all “the tools we have at our disposal” to make the city a great entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike. “This is a place people come for fun.”

The temporary sportsbook, which will be replaced by a much larger facility in early 2024, features a full bar, food service, dozens of lounge chairs and seats, even more televisions, a number of betting kiosks and a counter to place bets. Customers can also use a smartphone application to set up a bet, then have a code on their phone scanned to place it after arriving at the casino, 1721 W. Canal St.

Prior to Potawatomi’s opening, the closest places to legally place a bet were the Oneida Casino in Green Bay, which launched in late 2021, and Illinois, which allows mobile betting statewide. Sports betting expanded beyond Las Vegas following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The Forest County Potawatomi Community received permission to add sports betting in February 2022 after updating its gaming contract with the State of Wisconsin. The permanent sportsbook will be located in the space previously occupied by the casino’s Northern Lights Theater, a redevelopment decision made because the gaming facilities must be located on tribal trust land.

The permanent sportsbook is expected to be like “Buffalo Wild Wings on steroids,” said Ortiz. “Great food, great VIP, 120-foot LED screen that will be the most amazing experience to watch any of your sports teams other than being at the game.”

Ortiz said in his two years on the job he hasn’t been able to wear Potawatomi clothes in public without someone asking about when sports betting was coming. He said Potawatomi hopes to differentiate its experience by offering the “bet builder” feature on its smartphone app.

The temporary sportsbook is located in what was formerly an extension of the Fire Pit Sports Bar & Grill, and more recently, a Top Golf Swing Suite.

The sportsbook is being operated in partnership with Kambi, an independent sportsbook operator. It will also work to add a sportsbook to Potwatomi’s other casino, Carter Hotel & Casino, in Wabeno, WI.

Ortiz declined to provide an estimate on how much the casino anticipates receiving in wagers, but said he expected to exceed the organization’s “conservative” expectations. It has no public hard limit on the maximum single bet it would accept.

The brief ribbon-cutting ceremony was well attended, with several executives from the Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers spotted in the crowd. The national sports leagues have liberalized their stance on sports betting partnerships following the 2018 court decision.

What will Johnson spend his winnings on? His kids. He said his twin daughters are about to turn five and his son is about to turn 13.

Potawatomi continues to make progress on its $100 million renovation, which includes a new Rock & Brews restaurant with the two KISS frontmen, 1,800 more slot machines, a high-limit gambling room and additional new food options. Ortiz said the first phase of the overhaul is due to open in August, with completion set for September.

The City of Milwaukee receives money from the casino via a 1.5% share of winnings. That revenue share is estimated to be $5.8 million in the 2023 budget. It also receives property tax revenue, approximately one-third of the $2.5 million annual bill, from the hotel portion of the complex.


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