What Was the Wisconsin Betting Line?

You may be familiar with the expression “lay down the law,” but did you know that it came from the poker world and that the originators of the phrase actually meant it as a bluff? The law in question was the 18th Amendment, which prohibited women from playing poker. On October 30, 1972, the Amendment was passed in Congress and, three months later, became law. The Amendment was initially opposed by many high-profile individuals in the poker world, including Annie Montague, who led the opposition to the Amendment and was dubbed the “Queen of Hearts” because of her love for bold moves and her skill at poker. Unfortunately, Montague’s dream of creating a professional women’s poker league ultimately fell short because the 18th Amendment remained in effect. In 1976, however, Montague helped establish the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), which allows female golfers to compete against men in official tournaments.

How Did the Line Begin?

The law initially prohibited “gambling, wagering, gambling or betting” on football and basketball games, but it did not define “betting.” So, in light of the law, the term “football betting” became popular, and the majority of people assumed that it was a form of gambling. In 1975, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which provided a legal definition for “betting,” as follows:

“Betting” means the practice or act of betting, wagering, or playing with actual money or credit granted by a casino or other gaming establishment, on the outcome of a sporting event or contest, unless exempted by law.”

This Act effectively ended betting on sporting events, except as part of a wager placed with a bookmaker. It also ended informal sportsbooks, where people placed bets on the outcome of sporting events.

Why Did the Line Embrace Black Athletes?

The Black athletes of the time would often organize illegal sportsbooks, due to their knowledge of the rules and regulations surrounding sports betting, and the fact that most bookmakers would not take bets from blacks. The line, with roots in the civil rights movement, wanted to give African Americans a place where they could legally place bets and remain competitive. So, to encourage more African Americans to join, the line changed its name to the Wisconsin Betting Line in 1974. That same year, the line hired its first African American employee, a move that shocked many people at the time, but which the line’s founders thought would help gain credibility with some of its key constituents.

Why Are Some People Still Confused About the Line?

The term “blackballing” comes from the Black athletes who were often excluded from major sporting events, such as the Olympics, because of their race. One of the major events that precipitated the Black athletes’ efforts to form their own sportsbook was the 1967 O.K.C. (Olympic Kings Club) Challenge, where the team of Olympic champion Julius Erving, known as the “Dr. J’s” took on the New York Jets. Dr. J’s opponent was John Carlos, a linebacker for the Jets, who was determined not to let Erving dominate him on the field. During the game, Carlos said “No, nigger, you’re not going to run this football team” and used a racial slur when he knocked down Erving on a last-ditch play. This play became known as the “Tamarianu incident” and was widely reported and discussed at the time. It is also the event that led to the passing of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1975. Interestingly, decades later, Carlos, who became a prominent NBA analyst, admitted that he had changed his mind about the incident and apologized for his actions. Dr. J. accepted his apology and stated that they “move on” and that it was a “toughen[ing] experience” for Carlos, who went on to have a successful basketball career. The “toughen[ing] experience” was later parodied in the 1997 film, Quiz Show, where the character of Delma Cowles (Annie Murphy) utters the famous line, “You can’t blackball me because I’m white” after she is excluded from joining the “O.K.C.” Her response, “But you’re better than I am,” is a direct quote from the real-life Tamarianu incident.

The Rise of the Line

In addition to playing a role in ending racial discrimination in sports, the line has also played a role in the fight against gambling addiction. In 1975, just two years after the law that made it legal for African Americans to bet, a group of prominent citizens, including Montague, formed the American Association of Addicts to Automobile Racing and Other Forms of Intoxicants (4 A.A.) in order to curb the growing number of people becoming hooked on poker and other types of gambling. The association’s first major act was to get the then-president of the United States, Gerald Ford, to sign the bill that made horse-racing a form of gambling, illegal. Ford had initially opposed the bill, but, after reading the statistics about the growing problem of gambling addiction in the U.S., he decided to sign it.

In the early stages of the A.A.A.R.I., the organization’s acronym, it had some success in getting members to break their addiction, but, over time, the line witnessed an increase in members’ relapses as the problem became more public. In 1982, the A.A.A.R.I. changed its name to the National Council on Alcoholism (N.C.A.) and, in 2007, to the National Council on Problem Gambling (N.C.P.G.).

Although the line has helped combat gambling addiction, it has also seen its share of problems. In 2011, the year before the line became a subsidiary of the Resorts World Casino in New York, the line filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and, as a result, stopped taking bet requests. This was, in part, because of technical errors and, in part, because of the growing popularity of online betting, which many traditional bookmakers found difficult to navigate, as they relied on intermediaries, such as horse-racing and casino operators, to take bets for them.

The Resorts World Casino Connection

The line’s new owner, Resorts World Casino, sought to make changes to bring the line back from the brink of financial disaster. One of the changes made was to bring the line’s operations in-house, as it previously had an outside contractor, Multi-State Lottery Operator, handle its administrative tasks, such as collecting bets and paying winners. By bringing its operations in-house, Resorts World Casino was able to more closely monitor and control the line’s operations. The line, however, opted out of this arrangement and sued Resorts World Casino, alleging that it had failed to properly pay out winning bets.

In 2018, the two parties reached a settlement and, as part of the agreement, Resorts World Casino admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to pay the line $50 million. In addition to the payment, the casino operator also admitted to providing the line with complimentary rooms and restaurants, at their expense, in the shape of a horse collar, as a sop to their distressed guests.

What Will the Line Look Like in 2022?

Resorts World Casino’s acquisition of the line has not only improved its own finances, it has also made the line considerably more attractive to potential suitors. The line, at the time of the purchase, had roughly 40,000 members and 20,000 active accounts. Since the acquisition, the line has been adding thousands of new members every month. As a result, the line now has more than 100,000 members and is open to all comers. In addition to being open to all comers, the line now takes online bets and pays out winners using a variety of methods, including via PayPal.

In 2022, the line will celebrate its golden anniversary and, in the process, become one of the premiere destination wagering destinations, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. That being said, even after all these years, there are still plenty of questions about the line. For example, what exactly is the line? And, more importantly, is it legal? The line’s FAQ section, which it keeps online due to the volume of questions that it receives about the legality of sports betting and the various forms of wagering, does not provide much clarity. It simply says: “It’s legal for U.S. citizens.” This is far from an answer and, to this day, the line’s FAQ section does not provide a definitive answer as to whether or not sports betting is actually legal.