FOX Sports Wisconsin to be renamed for gambling company, with plans for wagering during telecasts

The explosion of sports gambling content in mainstream media is about to take one of its biggest steps to date, and you can bet it will hit home for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks.

FOX Sports Midwest owner Sinclair Broadcasting has reached a deal with casino operator Bally's Corporation in which FSWI and most of the 20 other regional sports networks it owns nationwide will be renamed, likely becoming "Bally Sports" or something similar. It was not immediately clear if the outlets would continue to be sub-branded locally, such as "Bally Sports Wisconsin" in this area, or when the switch will take place.

The New York Post reported that Bally's will pay Sinclair $85 million as part of the 10-year agreement that was announced late Wednesday. Sinclair also gets a small stake in Bally's.

But this partnership entails much more than a name being sold. Interactive wagering  is heading to the telecasts that appear on what now is FSWI, as well as Sinclair's similar outlets elsewhere. However, it would require Wisconsin to legalize sports betting as states like Illinois, Indiana and Iowa have.

"This arrangement represents an opportunity to revolutionize the U.S. sports betting, gaming and media industries," Bally's chairman Soo Kim said in a statement. This will be "... positioning Bally's to become one of the top U.S. sports betting and IGaming operators."

IGaming includes forms of online wagering in addition to sports betting, such as casino games. 

The deal with Sinclair is part of a whirlwind series of developments that set the stage for Bally's to gain a major foothold in the burgeoning sports-betting business. To wit:

• Less than seven weeks ago Bally's was known as Twin River Worldwide Holdings, owner of nine casinos nationwide and a horse track in Colorado.

• Then in mid-October Twin River bought the Bally's name from Caesars Entertainment, which for years has operated well-known hotel/casinos under that flag in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Twin River said it will rebrand its properties as Bally's locations.

• On Wednesday that corporation finalized its purchase of Bally's hotel/casino in Atlantic City from Caesars (though Caesars retains Bally's on the Vegas Strip). Also this week, continuing the ramp-up, Bally's bought sports wagering tech developer Bet.Works. That company is expected to develop software in which those watching the regional sports networks will be able to seamlessly wager on those contests directly through their television or mobile device.

Options already exist elsewhere in which bettors can wager not only on games, but also on a wide array of propositions that range from which team will win the season championship down to the outcome of the next play. This vast menu could be integrated into the telecasts.

The seed for all of this was planted in 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down federal restrictions against sports gambling in jurisdictions that had not been grandfathered in (primarily Nevada) when the ban began. That allowed states to decide individually if such wagering would be allowed and many have approved it, including Illinois, and it has been growing exponentially — though not in Wisconsin to date. Most of the wagering is through mobile devices, not in person at casinos.

Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley said, in a statement, that the company has been pointing toward cashing in the growing sports-betting market for some time, and that was accentuated with the addition of the regional sports networks last year when they were purchased from Disney.

"We have been working on developing an innovative experience that changes the way people think about and view live sports across all our platforms," he said. "Bally's, with its strong brand name, premier sportsbook technology platform and expansive market access, is the perfect partner to help us change the paradigm of sports viewing across all our assets. ... Consumers of live sports in the future can look forward to a more dynamic and engaging sports viewing experience. ... This partnership perfectly positions our sports portfolio to fully capitalize on changing audience behavior."

The companies said revenue in the U.S. from online betting sources is expected to increase from $1 billion in 2019 to $12 billion by 2025, eventually reaching $50 billion. The Bally's-Sinclair alliance will help them "capture a significant share" of that market, Bally's president and CEO George Papanier said Thursday.

A likely big advantage for Sinclair and Bally's is that they would have a captive audience to promote their bookmaking venture. Viewers already would be engaged with the device on which they are watching, and for simplicity might not go to a competing bookie's website or app to place a bet.

Sinclair and Bally's say betting content on the telecasts could be tailored to what is legal in each location the games are being seen. In a joint statement they said they will "design and integrate products on a state-by-state basis, and deliver one-of-a-kind online gaming experiences to local audiences."

It was not clear if betting-centric telecasts would be sent to all viewers in locations where wagering is legal, or if they would have the option of choosing a version on a secondary channel (such as FOX Sports Wisconsin Plus) that does not have a gambling emphasis. 

The arrangement also calls for Bally's content to be seen on the 190 television stations Sinclair owns.

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