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Report: Projected $70 Million Deficit In State Casino Revenue Over The Next Three Years

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MARIUSZ BLACH
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A new Wisconsin Policy Forum report found that the state of Wisconsin saw an 81.7% decrease in amount received from casinos over the past year. That number is not expected to begin to rebound until 2023.

Casinos, like restaurants and other entertainment industries, have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state of Wisconsin has 11 tribal governments that have signed compacts to allow for regulation of gaming and the operation of casinos. These agreements dictate the amount of money the state, local and tribal governments take home from the casinos.

Not only does the state rely on money received from casinos to fund programs to help Native communities but many tribal and local governments are heavily reliant on funds earned from working casinos. A new report released by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that the state of Wisconsin saw an 81.7% decrease in the amount received from casinos over the past year and that number is not expected to begin to rebound until 2023.

Ari Brown is a researcher at the Wisconsin Policy Forum and he says despite the usual $50 to $70 million dollars received by the state only making up 0.2% of Wisconsin’s $18 billion yearly general fund revenue, the decrease in funding will directly impact many departments in state government.

“The big ones being Tourism and Travel, Natural Resources, Justice, Health — these are all really important programs for the tribes. Like there’s a tribal language revitalization grant in here, there’s a focus on tourism marketing, things that are kind of multipliers in terms of the tribes’ seen revenue,” explains Brown.

Local governments like Milwaukee County or the Town of Oneida are also having to plan for decreased revenue received from their casinos, which Brown says makes a big impact in a local budget.

“When you’re talking about smaller, local governments, there’s certainly the chance for these to be substantial impacts when there is a compact in place, it’s a substantial loss in revenue to certain local governments, for sure,” he says.

The loss in revenue has also meant that casinos are having to lay off workers, with the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee laying off 1,600 employees last July and the Oneida Nation’s Green Bay Casino cutting their workforce almost in half.

But even as more people get vaccinated and Wisconsin’s COVID-19 numbers start to slowly decrease, Brown says the future still looks grim for casinos.

“All of these casinos are not even necessarily closed at this point but are operating in the same way that restaurants might, or movie theaters might, where even if they are open, there’s enough kind of skepticism out there and people are still wary enough of the pandemic that there’s just a huge drop in attendance,” he says.

He says over the next three years, the report projects there will be a $70 million dollar deficit between budgeted state programs and the casino revenue and he thinks that will need to be made up elsewhere as even with help, it is going to take years to get casinos back to pre-March 2020 levels.

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