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The state of Wisconsin hasn’t exactly shown interest in iGaming, but some tribes that operate gaming ventures in the “Badger State” certainly have. The first instance of this was when the sovereign Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians joined the Tribal Internet Gaming Alliance (TIGA), an alliance of Indian Tribes working collectively to bring internet gaming to Indian Country within the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and other state and federal laws.
“As online gaming legislation progresses throughout the United States, the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council recognizes the need to stay in the forefront of the potential opportunities,” said the tribe.
The Lac du Flambeau was the first tribe to join TIGA, which plans to develop a real-money online gaming platform by first helping Tribes with networked fun-play sites to enhance casino marketing. They were also the first to ratify the TIGA Treaty, an inter-governmental iGaming agreement between tribes that will hopefully lead to an iGaming coalition.
“TIGA can help its member tribes compete in an off-reservation environment when the applicable state or the federal government allows internet gaming," said Jeffrey Nelson, legal counsel for TIGA. "When that happens, we will be ready to help even small tribes obtain a license and compete.”
With the Lac du Flambeau putting an emphasis on iGaming, other tribe around the state have taken notice including Potawatomi Casino & Hotel in Milwaukee.
“Potawatomi Bingo Casino’s presence in an increasingly digital world is a big part of our marketing plans, both now and into the future. We have a vibrant web site and we’re active on a number of social media platforms,” said Potawatomi General Manager Mike Goodrich. “With the proliferation of all kinds of entertainment on laptops, smart phones and tablets, online gambling is certainly a hot-button issue. We are actively monitoring online gambling and continually evaluate how it may fit into our future.”
While tribes are considering iGaming, the legislature hasn’t been as quick to act. In fact, about the only development was the refusal of State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sign a letter – the Internet Gambling Control Act — advocating for the prohibition of online poker in the United States.
Additionally, there was a "Legal Poker In Wisconsin" effort being spearheaded by a group of poker players, including PPA state director Steve Verrett, that aimed for a declaratory judgment to define the legality of live poker within the state of Wisconsin by naming it a game of skill.
In August 2015, Circuit Court Judge Richard G. Niess considered the matter and essentially cited precedent to uphold the status quo.
"This case involves a claim for declaratory relief, essentially seeking a ruling from this court that the game of poker does not constitute gambling in the State of Wisconsin within the meaning and revisions in Wisconsin Statues," Judge Niess began.
"I've reviewed all of the briefs of council, I appreciate all those," Judge Niess continued. "I certainly enjoyed this case, not so much from the point of view of the legal issues, which I don't think are all that difficult, but certainly the consideration of poker is always entertaining for me, even though it's not always quite so entertaining at the poker table."
He continued: "I've got to say that poker is such a rich topic on so many levels. It's as much a part of the American fabric, I think, as baseball and apple pie, but having said that, I can’t ignore the law here, and the law unfortunately, to use a poker analogy, is a stacked deck against the plaintiffs here."
The law referred to, and the one that inspired the judge to say his "hands are tied," was a 1964 Supreme Court ruling in State v. Morrissy (25 Wis. 2d 638).
"It essentially upholds a criminal conviction ... for a tavern that was sponsoring poker tournaments, and specifically calls poker gambling within the meaning of those statutes in that case," explained Judge Niess. "That's binding in this court whether they've considered your arguments ... regarding skill versus chance being a predominant feature of poker or not. It doesn't appear they did, but the case is still nonetheless binding on me. I have no doubt poker involves, in the long run, if you look at it in the long run, more skill than chance ... I think from Madison's perspective, Phil Hellmuth, who is a virtual poker quote machine, summed up your expert's report saying poker is '100 percent skill and 15 percent chance.'"
The judge then concluded:
"In any event, I don't believe the court of appeals can do much with this either ... I think any relief you get would have to be at the Supreme Court, which is probably like drawing to an inside straight, or maybe in the legislature, but at this level I can't do anything."
The ruling took a mere five minutes to deliver, and afterward the plaintiffs and their supporters lingered outside to discuss the bad beat. Obviously the poker-playing mob was disappointed, with many believing the judge skirted the real issue — that being whether poker is a game of skill versus chance — by reiterating state statutes and citing precedent.