Gambling in Wisconsin

Is gambling legal in Wisconsin?  What is the definition of gambling?  What penalties do you face if charged?  This post will answer these and other questions about gambling in Wisconsin.

Gambling – What is it?

Gambling in Wisconsin is regulated in Section 945 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  First, we need to define a few terms.  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.   That’s fairly simple, but there are a few exceptions which don’t count as a bet.

  • First, general business contracts and insurance agreements are not bets.
  • Second, prizes paid to actual contestants in games or skill events, such as races or other physical competitions are not bets.
  • Third, participating in bingo or raffles conducted according to Chapter 563 don’t count as bets.
  • Fourth, participation in a pari-mutuel wager according to Chapter 562 is not a bet.
  • Fifth, participation in a lottery according to Chapter 565 is not a bet.

What is a gambling place?  The statute defines a gambling place as any building, tent or vehicle, where one of the principal uses is any of the following:  making and settling bets, receiving holding or recording bets, conducting lotteries, or playing gambling machines.  A gambling place does not include places where bingo or a raffle is conducted, places where lottery is conducted, or where a race is held.

So is Gambling Illegal?

According to Section 945.02, gambling is illegal in Wisconsin.  Any person who makes a bet violates the law.  Further, anyone who enters or remains in a gambling place with the intent to bet, participate in a lottery, or play a gambling machine also violates the law.  Finally, anyone who conducts a lottery also violates the statute.  If found guilty, you face a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

But wait.  Will you really be arrested and charged under this statute for making a simple bet?  What about that $5 handshake bet between friends over a game of H-O-R-S-E?  The reality is, this crime is rarely prosecuted in Wisconsin.  A quick search of CCAP shows only 85 entries for charges under 945.02 since 1988.  The last time someone was actually convicted?  2008 in Marinette County.  So don’t lose sleep tonight if you and your friend bet on the results of the Packer game last week.

When Can I Really Get In Trouble?

Commercial gambling is really what the statute was intended to prevent.  Commercial gambling is committed by one who intentionally operates a gambling place for their own financial gain.  It is also committed by one who intentionally receives a bet for gain.  It can also be committed by one who sets up and/or collects proceeds from a gambling machine.

If you engage in commercial gambling, you can be convicted of a Class I felony.  This means that you face 3.5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

It is also illegal to permit real estate to be used as a gambling place.  This is a little more difficult for the state to prove.  First, the defendant must own, occupy, or control real estate which was used as a gambling place.  Further, the defendant must have intentionally allowed the real estate to be used for this purpose.  What this boils down to is that you must own real estate, the real estate was used as a gambling place, and you knew it was being used in this manner and did nothing to prevent it.

If you intentionally permit your real estate to be used as a gambling place, you can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor.  This means that you face 9 months in jail and/or $10,000 fine.

Similar Crimes

In addition to gambling, there are a few other crimes which relate to the general idea of gambling.  It is illegal to intentionally alter a lottery ticket with the intent to defraud.  If you change the original form of the lottery ticket from when it was issued to you, then that constitutes altering.  And the purpose of the defendant must be to obtain money he or she was not entitled to receive.

If you intentionally alter a lottery ticket with the intent to defraud, you are guilty of a Class I felony.

As you might have guessed, it is also illegal to “utter” or transfer an altered lottery ticket.  Here, the State has to prove first that you transferred or presented for payment a lottery ticket.  Second, the ticket was altered.  And third, the defendant must know that the ticket was altered and acted with the purpose to transfer or utter it.  This is also a Class I felony.

The third and final crime related to lottery tickets is simply possessing an altered lottery ticket with the intent to defraud.  Here, the defendant must first possess a lottery ticket.  Second, the ticket must be altered.  And third, the purpose possessing the ticket must be with an intent to obtain money he or she was not entitled to receive.


If you have any questions about gambling and the legality of similar activities, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Ask a criminal defense attorney at Van Severen Law Office today!  And if you or a loved one has an addiction, the National Council on Problem Gambling offers 24/7 help.

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