On January 6, Sports Illustrated floated a dream scenario for Green Bay Packers fans: a “Triple Crown” sweep for the green and gold that includes Super Bowl rings all around, Aaron Rodgers being named MVP, and Matt LaFleur chosen Coach of the Year.
It’s also a dream scenario for the Oneida Nation. On November 30, the Wisconsin tribe—the Packers’ official partner and a sponsor of the Oneida-branded gate at Lambeau Field stadium—opened the first legal sportsbook in the state. The temporary venue is run by IGT at its main casino in Ashwaubenon.
Longtime employees Alma Webster and Sandra Brehmer placed the ceremonial first bet, picking the Saints over the Cowboys in NFL Week 13 (with the home field advantage, New Orleans trounced Dallas 27-17).
More than a month in, sports betting at the casino is drawing more customers of all ages, men and women alike, and bringing them in at traditionally slow times, like Sunday mornings.
In addition to pro sports, they can bet on the Olympics, amateur or collegiate sports that don’t include Wisconsin teams, and even popular events like the Academy Awards.
In Packers country, “we’re definitely seeing bets on the NFL,” said Assistant General Manager Fawne Rasmussen, “but we’re also seeing soccer, basketball, and even some tennis going on.”
Who’s in Charge?
As Super Bowl fever grows and the Packers maintain their dominance, one notable element about the Oneida operation has gone under the radar: it’s “manned” mostly by women—among them Rasmussen, General Manager Louise Cornelius and Director of Sportsbook Jessalyn Harvath.
To anyone who’s paying attention, it’s no surprise. Women are increasingly visible in leadership roles across the gaming industry; of GGB Magazine’s 25 People to Watch for 2022, 13 were women, led by Jette Nygaard-Andersen, CEO of one of the largest sports betting companies in the world, Entain.
Women’s governance is even less surprising in the Oneida tradition. This is a matrilineal society, in which Clan Mothers select the nation’s chiefs. In fact, Webster and Brehmer introduced tribal bingo in Wisconsin, more than 40 years ago.
“They’re basically credited with operating the most profitable single games in the state, which began in 1976,” said Cornelius.
By doing so, the women—affectionately known as the “Oneida Bingo Queens—altered the course of their tribe’s history for the better, and set an example for other women in the tribe.
“I had the opportunity to work for these two ladies, they were my mentors,” Cornelius told GGB News. “How it works in our nation is amazing, because it starts all the way from the top. We had a female chairwoman for many years, my great-aunt, Irene Moore,” for whom the casino’s Irene Moore Activity Center is named.
An industry veteran of more than 30 years, Cornelius is gratified to see women’s influence grow, especially on the sports betting side. As the daughter of a high school baseball coach and a self-described tomboy, she grew up around sports. “So I have an understanding of football, baseball and basketball. I think the biggest change I’ve seen today is seeing women sportscasters. That never used to happen.”
It’s quite a difference from her early years in the business. “I can tell you when I first started in gaming and went to a conference in Las Vegas, there were only two women there. I never felt so out of place in my life.”
Like Cornelius, Rasmussen started her gaming career at Oneida, in the late 1990s. “There’s a great amount of pride in the bingo hall, which started with Alma and Sandy, two amazing women,” she said. “They took Louise under under their wing and helped her, and now Louise has done the same for the rest of us.
“For many, many young new leaders coming up the ranks, she’s done an amazing job showing us the way and reminding us of our values, who we are as a people, what we stand for and ultimately the end goal, which is the betterment of the nation.”
The Level Playing Field
Despite the fixed idea that only men watch and bet on sports, research shows that women participate too, a lot: 2019 data from the American Gaming Association showed that 32 percent of sports betters in the previous year were women—or about one in three.
The tribe took a slow-and-steady approach to the new amenity, Rasmussen said. “We actually started doing our research about three years ago, getting experience and exposure to the product shortly after PASPA was repealed. And thank goodness we took that time to research and do our due diligence as far as the integrity of our operations and compliance. Now we feel we’re able to present a good, clean product to our consumers.”
That measured approach made sense, Cornelius agreed. “We just have a small location right now, and we didn’t want to be bombarded with people. We didn’t want long lines, and we didn’t want to make the experience uncomfortable for our players. Sports betting is very different in terms of technology, so we played it really low-key, and as we get ready to move into mobile betting, we’re doing that very low-key as well.”
Other tribes in the state, including the St. Croix, Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi, are now working with Governor Tony Evers to get into the games.
“Sports betting has definitely increased our foot traffic here,” said Rasmussen. “We’ve got a new type of clientele coming onsite. We have 15 kiosks available and three point-of-sale cashiers, and that seems to be a good fit for our current operation for now—helped by having a homegrown team close by. It’s been fun.”
A permanent sports betting lounge is under construction, with all the bells and whistles associated with retail books: panoramic video walls, club seating and a VIP lounge. It should be open by Super Bowl Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers (currently +350 favorites to win) bring it home.