HERTEL, Wis. (WCCO) -- Leaders of the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin say sports gambling will add a new dynamic to what their casinos can offer -- and will hopefully be ready by Super Bowl Sunday.
On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced he has paired with the tribe to approve wagering on professional sporting events at St. Croix-operated casinos throughout the state.
In Turtle Lake, just a 90-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis, tribal leaders understand the importance of location.
"When we look at sports betting, we want to pull from other states," said Chairman Bill Reynolds. "Minnesota is a great state to pull from. They're right next door."
Reynolds says expanding into the realm of sports wagering is something the St. Croix have wanted to do for years, but the timing was right in the partnership with Gov. Evers.
"This just happened to fall in our lap," Reynolds said.
Now, he says the focus is on building a one-of-a-kind sports book at the Turtle Lake casino location -- something he says could potentially bring in millions of dollars of economic impact.
"I look at it helping tourism and all our communities that we reside in," he said. "People need to stay places. People need to eat. Gas, food, vacation time. And that's what I hope to bring, you know, with this new adventure."
While it's not quite a full legalization of sports wagering for the state of Wisconsin, it now means every state bordering Minnesota, along with Canada, allows gambling on sports in some capacity.
"We can provide what Vegas has," said Georgia Cobenais of the St. Croix tribe. "We have the Vegas-style gambling right here. We have the carnival games. We have the live poker, we have blackjack, roulette, craps. Sports betting is just something that should have followed."
For Minnesota lawmakers who have been trying to legalize the practice statewide for years, it's a frustrating reality.
"It's a symptom of Minnesota government moving slow," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. "I am optimistic that we're going to pass legalized sports gambling this year, but as every Vikings fan knows, sometimes optimism is unjustified."
Rep. Garofalo says legalizing the practice statewide could lead to defunding the underground network of illegal gambling, while creating up to $35 million for state revenue.
Rep. Zack Stephenson, D-Coon Rapids, says it would also add a level of consumer protection for Minnesotans looking to place a bet.
"If you place a bet at that casino in Wisconsin, you can be sure you're not being cheated and you're going to get your money back if you win. If you're doing it on some shady website outside of the United States, you don't have any of those protections," Stephenson said. "Minnesotans deserve those same protections."
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