Real Money Online Gambling in Wisconsin

For a state that has 22 land-based casinos, Wisconsin is pretty conservative when it comes to gambling. The only reason there is gambling at all besides the lottery and charitable bingo is that the state was ordered to allow their Indian tribes to offer it on their land. After all these years, the entire state’s history actually, Wisconsin remains opposed to gambling, even though they look the other way when it comes to all that money that their lottery provides them each year.

People aren’t holding their breath much for Wisconsin’s dated and misinformed view of gambling to change, although they do have these casinos and that puts them ahead of some states these days, states who strictly forbid it without any good reason and expect that their arbitrary beliefs supersede reasonableness.

It turns out that this view of the state doesn’t matter much, as it has neither prevented land-based casinos nor online gambling, which remains for the taking. The state may not like this, just like they did not like the tribes acting against them, but we’ll explain why how the state feels about certain forms of gambling may not matter.

History of Gambling in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Online Casinos and SlotsWisconsin banned gambling in its very first statutes of 1848, when it became a state, and all forms continued to be banned until 1973, when charitable bingo first became legal. If you need an amendment to a state’s constitution to legalize charitable bingo, and 1973 is the first year any gambling becomes allowed in your state, it’s pretty clear already that we aren’t talking about one of the country’s most liberal states toward gambling.

In addition to charitable bingo, Wisconsin also saw its way to allowing charitable raffles as well in 1973. This might be an inauspicious start to the birth of gambling, but the very fact that this state did approve anything was a big step in the right direction after over a century of nothing.

1987 saw Wisconsin dip another toe into the gambling pool with another constitutional amendment allowing pari-mutuel wagering. The state did offer this for a time, but in time all of the tracks went under. While betting on horses remains legal, there are no tracks anymore to place these bets at.

1988 saw the Wisconsin Lottery sell their first tickets, although their offerings for the first decade were more sparse and it wasn’t until 2009 that they became a real lottery and offering the multi-state drawings such as Power Ball and Mega Millions that are so popular. To date, the Wisconsin Lottery has raised $44.6 billion to provide property tax relief for state residents.

1988 was also the year that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed, in response to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federally regulated tribes have the right to offer casino gambling whether the state they reside in approves it or not. Wisconsin has 11 such tribes, and as has been the custom in other states, compacts were negotiated with these tribes for them to build casinos on their land. All 11 tribes were given casino licenses.

Wisconsin hasn’t been completely opposed to licensing non-tribal casinos, but none of the attempts have been successful. A bill was actually passed to do this in 2007, but was vetoed by then Governor Jim Doyle. That was the last time this was attempted.

There is nothing on the agenda as far as expanding gambling in the state of Wisconsin. It is only 1 of 3 states which have no plans on even trying to get a sports betting bill passed. Online gambling may be even further away, perhaps not as far away as Utah who oppose any form of gambling with an iron fist, but Wisconsin has stood pat for quite a while with their lottery and their tribal gaming which they were forced to allow.

Wisconsin Gambling Laws

Some state gambling laws are better written than others, and Wisconsin’s gambling law is not one of the better written statutes out there. When gambling laws rely on the concept of “chance” to a substantial degree, this does tend to create a certain amount of uncertainty, which leaves too much up to the interpretation of terms and passages to the courts, in ways that would have been clearly avoidable if lawmakers wrote laws which provided more clarity.

We can use a term like chance without providing any clarification as to what this means and how it may apply to deciding matters such as whether chance plays a role acts under question or what degree they do, but when terms like this are left undefined, we have to rely on common usage, which can involve problems in applicability.

In Wisconsin, the act of gambling involves simply making a bet, and they do provide the definition of making a bet, and then set out various exemptions to certain activities that may or may not be considered betting. Making a bet generally is defined as “a bargain by 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.”

We need to first look to see what sort of bets that this provision may include before the need to exclude arises. Chance is defined as “something that happens unpredictability without discernable human intention or observable cause.” The fact that betting in Wisconsin may involve the use of some skill is a careless to attempt to describe the confluence of these two attributes, especially if the intention is to set aside bets that rely on skill in a material way, which it appears to be in this law.

If they wished to include bets that rely on chance materially to determine the outcome of bets, they could have just said so, like some states do, by for instance proclaiming that all bets whose outcome is dependent upon chance in any way would be considered gambling. The “accompanied by some skill” implies a threshold of skill which is unclear, and we then need to figure out how to define “some skill” as opposed to some other degree of skill short of pure skill. Blackjack would seem to fit this pretty nicely, where there is “some skill” in playing but the game is decided mostly upon chance.

Poker is the litmus test to any law considering the relationship between luck and skill, because it includes substantial elements of both. It is hard to imagine poker being understood as a game only dependent upon “some skill,” as poker requires a considerable amount of skill to be played at all, and the playing of the game itself, which the law speaks to, is different than looking at the outcome of hands, the degree that the result is based upon skill. Given that the betting itself is the object of the law, skill in the gambling itself is the focus.

This lack of clarity is why interpretations often rely so substantially on judges imparting their own views to look to fill the gaps in the law. It is not clear at all whether playing poker constitutes gambling as defined by the law or not in Wisconsin, and the goal of laws should be to take reasonable measures to elucidate the scope and definition of legal requirements.

We do know though that betting on events not contingent upon chance would surely be excluded, whether or not lawmakers intended it. Betting on events that do not involve the element of chance as commonly defined, like betting on sports, would clearly be outside the scope of this definition, although the law shows considerable confusion with at least some of its listed exemptions, such as trading in securities. There is no element of chance whatsoever in this, as outcomes are purely decided based upon human agency, as sporting events are as well.

Wisconsin also throws in bona fide contracts as an exemption, as some states do, although this is a meaningless distinction because parties can enter into a contract to gamble, which would be bona fide if the activity is legal, and therefore cannot be used as a criteria to determine legality. The exemption for insurance contracts is an interesting one because this one does appear to be caught in Wisconsin’s net because there is at least an element of chance involved, and insurance is an arrangement to indemnify certain events that may be the outcome of chance.

The bottom line is that Wisconsin’s definition of gambling does include casino games, and probably includes poker as well, even though it leaves open that argument to some degree. It clearly excludes sports betting though, even though lawmakers may have missed the fact that sporting events aren’t games of chance, with the outcome being dependent on agency and not chance.

Land-Based Gambling in Wisconsin

Aside from charitable gambling and the lottery, Wisconsin does have 22 casinos in operation in their state, all operated by their 11 tribes. The Bad River Lodge and Casino in Odahah is one of the bigger casinos in Wisconsin, with a 74,000 square foot casino with 460 slots, 8 table games, and a poker room.

The Potawatomi have two casinos, the smaller Potawatomi Carter Casino Hotel in Wabeno, with 500 slots, 8 table games, and bingo, and the much bigger Potawatomi Casino and Hotel in Milwaukee. It offers 2.500 slot machines, 100 table games, and a 20 table poker room, all open 24/7.

The Ho-Chunk tribe operates 6 casinos. The Ho-Chunk Gaming Black River Falls offers a 38,000 square foot gaming area with 600 slots, 10 casino table games, and bingo. The Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison currently has a 60,000 square foot casino with 1,100 bingo slot machines, but are planning on expanding it to 145,000 square feet, which is set to bring a lot more action to gamblers in Madison.

The Ho-Chunk Gaming Nekoosa has a 37,000 square foot casino with 650 slots and 12 gaming tables. The Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dell features 98,000 square feet of gaming space, including 2,200 gaming machines as well as real money poker. The Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg just offers slots, 500 of them. The Ho-Chunk Gaming Tomah also only offers slots, with 100 on site.

Hayward has two casinos. The Sevenwinds Casino Lodge and Convention Center offers a 35,000 square foot casino with 650 slot machines as well as blackjack, craps, roulette, and poker tables. The Grindstone Creek Casino has 86 slot machines on site.

The Lake of the Torches Resort Casino in Lac Du Flambeau is a 56,000 square foot casino with 800 slot machines, blackjack, poker, craps, and bingo. The Menominee Casino Resort features a 33,000 square foot casino with 850 gambling machines, 11 casino tables, and an 8 table poker room.

The Oneida tribe operates 5 casinos in Wisconsin. The Oneida Main-Airport Casino is a large venue with 136,000 square feet of gaming space, with 850 slots and a full selection of casino table games. The IMAC Casino is mostly a bingo parlor but does offer slot machines as well. The Oneida Mason St. Casino provides 58,000 square feet of gaming space and features both slots and a poker room. The Oneida One Stop Packerland and the Oneida Casino Travel Center both offer slot gaming to their patrons.

The Legendary Waters Resort and Casino hosts 300 slot machines, live blackjack, and bingo. The Mole Lake Casino has 500 slot machines on site, 6 blackjack tables, and a bingo hall. The St. Croix Casino Hertel has 250 slot machines on their property. The St. Croix Casino Danbury has 500 slots, 10 casino gaming tables, and a 4 table poker room.

The North Star Mohican Casino Resort boasts 1,225 slot machines, 13 table games, and 6 poker tables. Rounding out the list of Wisconsin casinos is the St. Croix Casino Turtle Lake, with 95,000 square feet of gaming, 1.095 slots, 19 blackjack tables, along with craps, roulette, and a poker room.

Most of these Wisconsin tribal casinos are smallish, but the sheer number of them allows the people of Wisconsin a fairly easy drive in order to enjoy real money casino gambling.

Wisconsin Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

Wisconsin isn’t currently open to online gambling at all, and is in the bottom pack when it comes to bringing online gambling to their state anytime soon. If not for the tribal casinos, which were basically forced upon the state by federal law, gambling in Wisconsin would be sparse indeed, limited to just the lottery and church bingo.

There isn’t even any sort of push in the periphery of the Wisconsin state government to license online gambling, even giving it over to the Indians as some states have done or are looking to do, given that they aren’t comfortable allowing non-tribal interests to roll it out. Wisconsin doesn’t like gambling much at all, and federal law may have forced some of it on them, but for the present time at least, they aren’t willing to do any of this willingly.

Federal law may force them to let the Indians build casinos on their land, but it doesn’t speak to whether or not the Indians may offer real money online gambling to residents of Wisconsin. If one or more of these tribes decided to do it on their own, as we saw in California, this would present an interesting scenario legally, but the chances of Wisconsin’s tribes taking on the state over this is virtually zero. Tribes have partnered with states in signing compacts, a peace treaty of sorts, and this includes the Wisconsin tribes, and real money online gambling simply isn’t part of the deal.

As times change, perhaps when Wisconsin is one of the few states that do not license online gambling, being cast into a bucket with states that think gambling is the work of the devil, we may see online gambling licensed and regulated in Wisconsin, but there is no interest for this in this state at present nor in the foreseeable future.

We don’t want to make the mistake of presuming too much, and presuming that Wisconsin legislators have to approve online gambling for Wisconsinites to gamble online would be a clear mistake. This is only valid if you can manage to successfully pretend that the set of online gambling opportunities is limited to that which Wisconsin regulates.

There is no need to wait as it turns out because there are plenty of great sites in other countries that you can travel to virtually any time you want, like taking a vacation to a casino resort, and there’s no one that can stop you or even interfere with this. A great many of Wisconsin gamblers enjoy real money gambling whenever they wish, and those who get the most out of their experiences count on experts like ourselves to show them the way.

Future of Gambling in Wisconsin

Wisconsin may have 22 casinos but most of them are on the small side, and some are actually convenience stores with some slots out back. This sure beats no land-based gambling at all, but it’s not that Wisconsin is brimming with big casinos or anything, and this is very far from Las Vegas in terms of both distance and the quality of the gaming experiences at most Wisconsin casinos.

The kind of tribal casinos that a state has depends on how much money that is put into these, and while some of the biggest and best casinos in the country are tribal casinos, it takes a lot of money to build a first-class casino, the sort of money that you get from partnering from major casino companies. Tribes of more modest means and more modest expertise yield casinos of more modest size and quality.

Like many states, Wisconsin could benefit from more closely examining the wisdom of their fairly minimalist approach to gambling, to ask themselves how the state benefits from being so restrictive and compare this with the benefits of opening up more. It’s fine to object to something on principle but this does not remove the requirement of seeking to have the principles that we do decide on be sound and justifiable.

This includes the state’s view towards online gambling. It is not just a matter of the state of Wisconsin missing out on a lot of tax revenue by forcing residents to choose to gamble on sites that are located in other countries and see this gambling revenue flee the state, it’s also about the state’s desire to deprive their residents of a major form of entertainment, or at least stand in opposition to it.

It is both archaic and ridiculous to believe that the public welfare is somehow promoted by denying people simple pleasures like this, without even a semblance of benefit other than whatever satisfaction one may derive from inexplicably imposing their beliefs upon others to violate their liberty without cause.

This is not unlike the prohibition days, and people just went to establishments called speakeasies to get around this repression. The speakeasies have evolved to the internet now, where you no longer have to speak easy because there’s no way for the authorities to hear you speak, so this results in an attempt to prohibit without any force or consequence, or benefit for that matter.

Whatever the law may say about online gambling, the law doesn’t even enter into the conversation really. States may seek to create and enforce laws in the physical dimension, but the virtual world just can’t be restricted the same way, where freedom cannot be effectively denied and people can travel online to wherever they wish and play whatever gambling games they want, and all they want, outside the view of public officials.

Whenever Wisconsin gets around to regulating online gambling themselves, when they finally decide that they want a voice as well as a financial stake in the gambling of their residents, this will add to the options that online gamblers in Wisconsin have, but they have plenty now, especially if you know where the best places to play are.

Wisconsin Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • When did legal gambling first come to Wisconsin?

    It wasn’t until 1973 that Wisconsin got their first legal gambling, which allowed charitable organizations such as churches to offer bingo games. As a testament of how relatively opposed Wisconsin has been to gambling historically, just to get church bingo legalized, the state had to amend its constitution, which required that the issue be put to the public in a referendum. Voters in 1973 approved this, and the first ground with gambling was finally broken.

  • Does Wisconsin have pari-mutuel betting?

    Betting on animal races is explicitly legal in Wisconsin, even though you have to be familiar with the state’s history or its laws to be aware of this. Wisconsinites went to the polls again in 1987 to vote to amend the constitution once again to allow for pari-mutuel betting to become legal, and the provision was passed. There’s only one problem though, and it’s that there are no pari-mutuel tracks in the state to bet at.

  • Does Wisconsin offer a state lottery?

    The year after betting on horses was made legal, the state of Wisconsin finally decided to create a state lottery. They used to only offer scratch tickets and pull tabs, the sort of thing you might buy at a bar elsewhere, but eventually heard the call of bigger money and now offer a full slate of lottery games. The Wisconsin Lottery applies its profits to reducing the property taxes of its residents, a quid pro quo arrangement that helps lotteries gain public support.

  • How did Wisconsin end up with 22 casinos?

    In 1988, the same year that Wisconsin created their lottery, federally recognized Indian tribes were given the right to set up casinos on their land. While states can govern lands within their borders, a power given to them by the U.S. constitution, the federal government takes precedence in lands that they preside over, and this has been found to include tribal lands of federally recognized tribes. Wisconsin’s 11 tribes all now have at least one casino.

  • What sort of gambling does Wisconsin’s tribal casinos offer?

    Wisconsin casinos vary widely in size and offerings, anything from fairly large ones that offer slots, table games, poker rooms, bingo, and even wagering on simulcast horse races in select locations, to convenience stores with slots in the back room. Several of Wisconsin’s tribal casinos only offer slots, with some offering slots and bingo. Unlike a lot of states these days, Wisconsin’s casinos do not offer sports betting and there are no plans for this to be added to their fare.

  • What does the law say about gambling in Wisconsin?

    Wisconsin’s gambling law looks like a botched attempt to prohibit all gambling other than what they specifically authorized, which is the general intent of all gambling law. However, the law was written to only prohibit games in which chance is at least plays a material role, although it is unclear how much a game needs to rely on chance to be disallowed. They completely missed making sports betting against the law as chance plays no role in these bets.

  • Why is Wisconsin so opposed to expanding gambling in the state?

    The moment that Wisconsin became a state and made its first laws, real money gambling was made illegal, or at least they made an effort to do this. It’s hard to say why, other than the prevailing view has been opposed to it, and the biggest flaw of democracy is that people may vote in any of their preferences, no matter how capricious or unjust. Votes provide the assent, unabridged by even the concept of justification. This view may have eased over the years but still remains very influential.

  • Can people in Wisconsin engage in social gambling?

    The objection against gambling in some states comes down to a concern of players being manipulated by commercial operators, even though they may contradict this principle themselves by profiting greatly from offering games where players are at a far bigger disadvantage than any casino game. Wisconsin just objects to gambling period, to a large degree, and prefer that you not play games of chance even at a home game.

  • Is regulated real money online gambling available in Wisconsin?

    Many people would be surprised to learn that Wisconsin has had regulated real money online gambling ever since online gambling was born. Instead, many think that they have to wait before enough of the crust breaks off to have the state look at online gambling more pragmatically. In the meantime, there are several great options that Wisconsinites can take advantage of, real money sites not regulated by Wisconsin but in other locations.

  • Is it safe for Wisconsinites to gamble at offshore real money gambling sites?

    Wisconsin might be a pretty substantial state, but it is simply dwarfed by the offshore gambling industry, who have been regulating real money online gambling for decades now and have done this very successfully throughout. Like with all things, the quality of these sites differ significantly, and this is why it is so important to rely on expert recommendations to ensure that you find your way to this great gambling and not get lost and disappointed venturing off on your own.

Associate Writer: Simon loves to bet on sports as well as play online slots, and he has a keen eye for sorting out the honest sites from the not so honest.