Wisconsin Online Poker Legal Constraints

Wisconsin is only slightly above average in regards to size, ranked the 20th largest US state by landmass. It also has the 23rd highest population of 5,757,564 (est. 2014), which is comparable to about 2/3rd the population of New Jersey; the most populated state where online poker is regulated. But of all the economic derivatives America’s Dairyland is known for – particularly its mass production of cheese and other dairy products – online poker is not one of them.

The only other states to favor legislation for the regulation and taxation of internet gambling are Delaware and Nevada. However, due to the often ambiguous terminology of state directives, just because something isn’t explicitly authorized by law doesn’t necessarily make it an illegal activity.

Our aim is to examine the legislative body of Wisconsin to determine whether or not online poker appears to be illegal in Wisconsin. We’ll attempt to accomplish that goal by studying the state’s current gambling industry and relative legal climate.

Land-based Gambling in Wisconsin

The first legalized form of gambling in Wisconsin was the ability to wager on promotional contests and sweepstakes in 1965, which evolved into the legalization of charitable bingo in 1973 and charitable raffles in 1977. Pari-mutuel betting on horse, dog and snowmobile races was permitted in 1987 along with the state lottery, which sold its first tickets in 1988

Tribes throughout the Badger State spent years fighting for their right to establish casinos on their respective reservations, even after the federal government passed the IGRA of 1988. They eventually won those rights based on the opinion of then-Attorney General Doyle, who in 1991 delivered the opinion that the term “lottery” encompassed all forms of gambling that contain the three elements of “prize, chance and consideration”. And as per the IGRA, any gambling legal in a state is legal for tribes to offer. Thus, if the state lottery was legal, just about all forms of gambling should be presentable by tribes.

Currently, tribal gambling facilities are the only legal, casino-style establishments in Wisconsin. There are 11 recognized tribes in the state operating 22 casinos, where bingo, slots, video poker, table games and live poker are legally acceptable forms of gambling.

Also worth noting, amidst the tribal gaming disputes, there was a push for legal gambling at up to four state-authorized (and taxable) “floating casinos”. The proposal also included the installment of video gaming machines at taverns. The casinos and tavern licenses would have generated much-needed tax dollars for the state, but the idea was quickly squashed.

Deciphering the Laws of Wisconsin as they relate to Online Poker

The following is a collection of legislative rules that could relate the act of playing online poker for real money. The text below is taken directly from the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 945, Gambling.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
945.01 Definitions (1) Bet. 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. But a bet does not include:
(a) Bona fide business transactions…
1. Contracts for the purchase or sale…of securities or other commodities…
2. Agreements to compensate for loss [e.g. insurance]…
Playing poker for real money is making a bet.
(5) Lottery. A lottery is an enterprise wherein for a consideration the participants are given an opportunity to win a prize, the award of which is determined by chance, even though accompanied by some skill. Due to former AG Doyle’s 1991 interpretation that “lottery” encompasses all forms of gambling wherein prize, chance and consideration are involved (see Land Based Gambling in Wisconsin above), poker falls under the definition of a “lottery”.
(6) Wire communication facility. “Wire communication facility” means any and all instrumentalities, personnel and services, and among other things the receipt, forwarding or delivery of communications used or useful in the transmission of writings, signs, pictures and sounds of all kinds by means of wire, cable, microwave or other like connection between the points of origin and reception of such transmission. In regards to online poker, this definition would seem to apply to an internet service provider (ISP) or online payment process that facilitates the transfer of information used to place a bet, or money used for betting.
945.02 Gambling Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor:
(1) Makes a bet…
Unless the activity takes place at a state authorized tribal casino or gaming facility, playing poker is a Class B Misdemeanor in Wisconsin, the penalty for which is imprisonment up to 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
945.03 Commercial Gambling (g) For gain, uses a wire communication facility for the transmission or receipt of information assisting in the placing of a bet or offer to bet on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of a bet or offer to bet. This law applies to gambling operators, not gamblers. However, it insinuates that playing online poker for real money is akin to placing a bet with an operator that utilizes a “wire communications facility”.

Prizes Forfeited

Anything of value received by any person as a prize in any lottery conducted in violation of this chapter shall be forfeited to the state and may be recovered in any proper action brought by the attorney general or any district attorney in the name and on behalf of the state. Since the term “lottery” includes poker games, if convicted for playing illegal online poker, any winnings derived from play can be seized by the state of Wisconsin.


Is Online Poker Illegal in Wisconsin?

Yes. According to the statutes quoted above, online poker does seem to be illegal in Wisconsin, and punishable by law. The only legal forms of gambling are state-authorized Indian Gaming, pari-mutuel betting and licensed games of bingo or raffles held for charitable purposes. Although the original inclusion of “wire communications facility” found in the definitions of gambling was certainly intended to prohibit sports/contest betting by telephone, telegraph, etc., it would easily apply to today’s modern internet technology.

Is Wisconsin working to Legalize Online Poker?

Probably not. There hasn’t been a single piece of legislation or documented debate among state officials referencing the regulation of online poker in Wisconsin. However, there is a glimmer of hope for future discussion based on lobbying from the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

In October 2013, the Lac du Flambeau became the first tribe to join the Tribal Internet Gaming Alliance (TIGA). According to their website, “TIGA is an alliance of Indian tribes working collectively to bring internet gaming to Indian Country, within the framework of IGRA and all other state and federal laws.”

While TIGA’s efforts haven’t produced any viable results towards the acceptance of Tribal online gambling in the US, the Lac du Flambeau’s involvement could help bring discussions to the table within the next few years.

Online Poker Players from Wisconsin

There are over 50 known online poker players from Wisconsin, and countless more that we don’t know of. Some of the more successful ones include Christopher “soapnyoureye” Burmeister, Alex “Alex_Striker” Scheurell, Rick “RStenson” Stenson, Matt “P0keSh0w” Schmelzer and Alexander “UcanRiverMe” Hill.

Land-Based Card Rooms in Wisconsin

There are 22 casinos in Wisconsin, all run by the state’s 11 tribal communities, many of which offer live poker rooms for their patrons.

Bad River Lodge & Casino
Odanah, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Grindstone Creek Casino
Hayward, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Ho-Chunk Gaming Black River Falls
Black River Falls, WI
Poker Room: No

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison
Madison, WI
Poker Room: No

Ho-Chunk Gaming Nekoosa
Nekoosa, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Ho-Chunk Gaming Tomah
Tomah, WI
Poker Room: No

Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells
Baraboo, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg
Wittenberg, WI
Poker Room: No

Irene Moore Activity Center
Green Bay, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Legendary Waters Resort & Casino
Bayfield, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Lac Courte Oreilles Casino, Lodge & Convention Center
Hayward, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Lake of the Torches
Lac du Flambeau, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Mason Street Casino
Green Bay, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Menominee Casino Resort
Keshena, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Mohican North Star Casino
Bowler, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Mole Lake Casino & Lodge
Mole Lake, WI
Poker Room: No

Oneida Bingo Casino
Green Bay, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
Milwaukee, WI
Poker Room: Yes

Potawatomi Northern Lights Bingo and Casino
Carter, WI
Poker Room: No

St. Croix Casino Danbury (formerly Hole in the Wall Casino)
Danbury, WI
Poker Room: No

St. Croix Hertel Express (formerly Little Turtle Hertel Express)
Webster, WI
Poker Room: No

St. Croix Casino Turtle Lake
Turtle Lake, WI
Poker Room: Yes

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