Wisconsin may be best known for its vast assortment of delectable cheeses, and there are surely many poker players in the state who enjoy that selection, but their attention is likely focused more on the range of poker games available in the Badger State. Wisconsin’s gambling laws do not prohibit poker games in general. In fact, there is an abundance of tribal casinos, more than two dozen of them, dotting the state map; many of which are fully equipped with poker rooms to accommodate the card playing masses. But in today’s technological age, the majority of poker playing ‘Cheese Heads’ are more interested in the legalities of playing online poker in Wisconsin.
Legality of Online Poker in Wisconsin
Some states’ lawmakers have specifically addressed the issue of playing online poker for real money, whether for or against, but the majority of them have not. Wisconsin happens to fall into the latter category. It’s becomes much more difficult to determine the legalities of online poker in a state where illegal gambling activities are so ambiguously defined.
Our goal here is to decipher the laws of the state and come to an educated conclusion as to whether online poker is legal in Wisconsin. However, we are not professional lawyers and are, therefore, not qualified to provide legal advice of this nature. Simply put, do not take our word for it. For that, we recommend contacting a local authority on the matter.
Without further ado, let’s examine the gambling laws of Wisconsin. We’ll also take a look at the probabilities of future online poker regulation in the state.
Wisconsin Statutes – Gambling
Chapter 945 of the Wisconsin Statutes deals with all gambling related matters. The following texts are taken directly from that section of the state’s laws. Please note that some text may be omitted or abridged to sustain topical fluency, but the meaning has not been altered.
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 [bona fide business transactions, bona fide contests of skill, authorized bingo games or raffles, pari-mutuel wagering, authorized lotteries, prizes for employee referrals/identifications]
Gambling Machine: A gambling machine is a contrivance which for a consideration affords the player an opportunity to obtain something of value, the award of which is determined by chance, even though accompanied by some skill and whether or not the prize is automatically paid by the machine. [Does not include authorized bingo/raffle/lottery/pari-mutuel betting machines, amusement devices that award free plays and/or merchandise prizes]
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
Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor:
(1) Makes a bet…
945.03 Commercial Gambling
…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…
(3) Penalties for misdemeanors are as follows:
(b) For a Class B misdemeanor, a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Wisconsin?
The terms “online” and “internet” never appear in the state’s gambling legislation, but because the laws are so vague, they could easily be interpreted to include such activities as playing poker online. Although it’s a tough call to make, our conclusion would have to be that yes, online poker is illegal in Wisconsin. Let’s examine the facts.
A bet is any form of wagering on any unauthorized contest of chance, whether or not skill is involved – that would clearly include poker games that are not authorized/regulated by the state. And anyone who makes a bet is guilty of a class B misdemeanor (fine up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail).
The only authorized forms of betting are tribal casinos, state lotteries, charitable bingo games/raffles and licensed pari-mutuel racing facilities. Online poker sites are not authorized by the state, therefore by default must fall under the category of ‘unauthorized’ betting.
We’ve also included the definition of “wire communication facility” because the internet would obviously qualify as a wire communication. The use of the term is found only once under ‘Commercial Gambling’ as use of “a wire communication facility for the transmission or receipt of information assisting in the placing of a bet…” This law pertains only to the operator of a commercial gambling operation, not the player, but it would give the state more leeway in finding an online poker player guilty of illegal gambling via a “gambling machine”.
Is Wisconsin working to regulate online poker?
Gambling is a focal topic of debate in America’s Dairyland right now, but unfortunately, online poker isn’t the subject matter. There are 11 native tribes in Wisconsin, most of which are arguing their rights in terms of gambling expansion and permissible games. For example, the Ho-Chunk Tribe is waiting to hear whether it will be allowed to open a fourth casino in Beloit, while at the same time attempting to block the Menominee tribe from opening a new casino Kenosha. With so much in-fighting between tribal casino operators and Wisconsin officials, it doesn’t appear that online poker will become a topic of debate for a very long time to come.
The good news is that the state does permit some form of state-authorized gambling – particularly pari-mutuel wagering. That at least puts Wisconsin on the middle-road for future online poker regulation, rather than the back of the pack with the few states that outlaw all forms of gambling and some of which don’t even offer a state-run lottery.