Online Poker in Wisconsin
Important WI Notes
- Regulated offshore poker websites accept players from WI
- The state currently opposes all forms of internet gambling
- WI Governor has been denying gambling expansion recently
- Lottery, charitable, pari-mutuel, & tribal casinos allowed
- Commercial casinos and racetrack betting are not legal
- 0 never
Online poker would be covered under the Wire Communication Facility as defined in the Wisconsin statutes. Operating an online poker room would be specifically illegal in Wisconsin. Though playing poker online is not specifically declared illegal, it would be illegal to operate an internet poker site under the general definitions of gambling and related terms. However, poker players in Wisconsin can legally play at regulated offshore sites.
Future Outlook of Online Poker in Wisconsin – Estimated date of legalization: 2020-2021
The following graph tracks our expected legislation of online poker in Wisconsin on a state law level. It is currently already legal on a Federal level. This graph monitors the current rise or fall of expected legalization.
The Menominee Indian Tribe and the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans have asked Wisconsin’s State Department of Administration to block the expansion of a gambling hall belonging to a rival tribe. The two tribes say that the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin’s...
The establishment in Wisconsin has opposed online gambling since the late 1990s. In September 1997, Attorney General James Doyle filed lawsuits on behalf of Wisconsin against three online gambling operators offering lottery type games on the grounds that accepting bets via computer is illegal in Wisconsin. The Business Journal reported [A] that the court struck down the cases against the tribal Indians because they were not subject to Wisconsin law, but permitted the prosecution of the Internet company that ran the operations for the tribes.
In June 2012, Wisconsin Family Action [B] was one from a group of such organizations from 13 states that wrote to the Congress to impose a Federal ban on online gambling. This was in response to the Department of Justice ruling that individual states could legalize all forms of online gambling except for sports betting. In August 2013, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reiterated his opposition to online gambling. He went on to add that he would permit the expansions in Indian land casinos contingent to the acceptance of a no online gambling clause. Hence, there seems little likelihood of online poker being legalized in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.
Current Gambling Laws in Wisconsin
There is a separate sub heading titled Gaming in the Wisconsin Statutes. It covers Chapters 561 to 569 that deal with various forms of legal and regulated gaming. The Wisconsin Division of Gaming [C] has oversight on the regulated gambling activities. Chapter 945 [D] of the Wisconsin Statutes, which falls under criminal code, defines gambling and states the penalties for illegal gambling. Some of the important sections are reproduced below.
With regards to private betting, Section 945.01 states: “A bet is a bargain in which the parties agree that, dependent upon chance even though accompanied by some skill, one stands to win or lose something of value specified in the agreement.”
A bet does not include bona fide business transactions which are valid under the law of contracts such as the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or other commodities and payouts against life, health and accident insurance. A bet also does not include prizes to the actual contestants in any bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength, or endurance or to the owners of animals or vehicles entered in such contests. Legalized forms of gambling such as participation in bingo or a raffle conducted under Chapter 563, pari-mutuel wagering conducted under Chapter 562 and participation in a lottery conducted under Chapter 565 are also permitted. Betting or participating in gambling activity is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both. It has been reported that law enforcement authorities rarely prosecute activities, such as low-stakes poker games or betting pools, even though these activities are illegal.
Section 945.03 deals with commercial gambling, which in brief is any sort of involvement for profit in running gambling operations that are unlicensed. Commercial gambling is a Class E felony punishable by a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed two years, or both. Local law enforcement authorities usually raid establishments conducting commercial gambling only in response to specific citizen complaints.
History of Gambling in Wisconsin
Land Based Poker in Wisconsin
Home poker games are covered under private gambling and are illegal in Wisconsin. But law enforcement authorities rarely prosecute such activities even though they are illegal.
There is no exemption for charity poker tournaments in the Wisconsin Statutes and such activities are illegal.
Live poker is permitted only at the licensed Indian tribal casinos.
Gambling Laws in Wisconsin
The Evolution of Legalized Gambling in Wisconsin [E], a study conducted by Legislative Reference Bureau outlines the history of gambling in the state. Since the ban on lottery in 1848, the courts, the legislature and attorneys general interpreted any game involving a prize, chance and consideration as a lottery, even if skill or knowledge could influence the outcome of the game. Therefore, all forms of gambling, both public and private, whether conducted for profit or for charity were initially prohibited. Over time certain forms of gambling became permissible, but required a constitutional amendment in each case.
In 1993 Wisconsin voters affirmed the following key issues on gambling.
- Any state-operated or private casino-style gaming would require subsequent constitutional change.
- Casino gambling on excursion boats would not be allowed.
- Video poker and other forms of off-reservation video gambling would not be allowed.
- The existing pari-mutuel on-track wagering on racing could be continued.
- The state lottery could be continued.
The only brick and mortar casinos permitted in Wisconsin are those operated by the Indian Tribes on reservations. The laws regarding this are covered in Chapter 569 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The casinos are operated in 16 counties by 11 Tribes. The Division of Gaming, Office of Indian Gaming and Regulatory Compliance is the entity responsible for the State portion of the Tribal gaming oversight required by the Compacts.
By the 1989 Wisconsin Act 196, the governor was authorized to enter into gaming compacts on behalf of the state with the Indian Tribes. By June 1992, the governor had concluded 7-year gaming compacts with all 11 of the state’s Indian tribes. In 2003, Governor Jim Doyle increased the number of games casinos could offer, expanded the hours of operation, and arranged that the compacts never again had to be renegotiated. Currently, the casinos offer Class III games through a total of 16,643 gaming devices and 345 gaming tables as per the report Tribal Gaming in Wisconsin [F] released in January 2013. Class III games include banking card games, electronic games of chance, and generally all casino style high stakes games.
On January 23, 2015, Governor Scott Walker did not approval a new Indian casino project in Kenosha, Wisconsin by the Menominee Nation tribe. The Governor said if he were to approve the project the state might end up having to owe hundreds of millions to a rival Indian tribe.
The 1987 Wisconsin Act 354 authorized pari-mutuel wagering on horse, dog and snow-mobile racing. The laws are covered under Chapter 562 of Wisconsin Statutes. However, only greyhound racing was ever conducted. At one time there were five greyhound tracks but by 2009 all had shut down [G].
Section 562.057 provides for simulcasting horse races even from out-of state race tracks and pari-mutuel betting on the same.
Riverboat gambling is illegal in Wisconsin as it has been rejected by the voters in 1993. Clause (4)(a) of Section 945.01 defines a gambling place as, “any building or tent, any vehicle (whether self-propelled or not) or any room within any of them, one of whose principal uses is any of the following: making and settling bets; receiving, holding, recording or forwarding bets or offers to bet; conducting lotteries; or playing gambling machines”. This covers gambling on cruise boats. There is an opinion [H] from the Attorney General’s office that a riverboat licensed in a neighboring state and equipped with casino type gambling games would be violating Wisconsin law if it entered Wisconsin waters.
The lottery amendment was ratified in 1987 by Wisconsin residents and the 1987 Wisconsin Act 119 created the state lottery. The state lottery began operations in September 1988, with “Match 3”, an instant win scratch-off game. Chapter 565 of the Wisconsin Statutes deals with laws concerning the state lottery. The Wisconsin State Lottery is administered by the Department of Revenue’s Division of Lottery [I]. It offers scratch-off instant win games, pull-tabs, and on-line numbers drawings games including the national Power Ball and Mega Millions draws.
In April 1973, the citizens of Wisconsin voted to permit the legislature to authorize licensed bingo games conducted by religious, charitable, service, fraternal or veterans organizations. The rules governing the terms and conditions are covered under Chapter 563 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The main terms are that the organization must be a nonprofit entity incorporated in Wisconsin, has been in existence for at least three years and the profits are used for the benefit of the organization. Personnel who conduct the games cannot be compensated. The prize money, in cash or merchandise, cannot be more than $1,000 per occasion and not more than $250 in a single game.
Wisconsin also allows raffles for charity. The laws relating to raffles are contained in Subchapter VIII of Chapter 563 of the Wisconsin Statutes. All raffle drawings must be held in public and the maximum price for a ticket can be $50. In 1989, Wisconsin allowed statewide organizations to sponsor raffles. Earlier raffles were held locally.
Promotional contests were the first events based on chance that were specifically legalized in Wisconsin through Chapter 122, Laws of 1965. This was to prevent them from falling under the general definition of gambling. The contests include drawings and sweepstakes. The constitutional provisions and laws governing promotional contests are specified in Article IV, Section 24 (2) of the Wisconsin Constitution and Section 945.01 (5) of the Wisconsin Statutes. The main requirements are that the promotional contests must be open to anyone essentially free of charge, with the exception of minimal postage, copying, telephone or transportation costs and all entrants must enjoy an equal chance of winning all prizes.
Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
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