Some unique statewide traditions come and go, while some places become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: Meat Raffles!
If you visit enough bars in Wisconsin, you’re bound to encounter one at some point. It’s a tavern tradition that’s been around for decades, and in recent years has become something as synonymous with Badger State drinking culture as pull tabs, touchdown shots, and the bloody mary beer chaser. Yes, as the headline of this article might’ve alerted you to, we’re talking about the almighty Meat Raffle. While this unorthodox activity neither originated here nor is exclusive to our state in any way, Wisconsin finds itself on a fairly short list of places that regularly partake in this winning mix of gambling, protein, and community.
Meat Raffles are said to have started in Great Britain during World War II. Shortly after the war, they made their way stateside and—while failing to catch on everywhere in the country—have maintained their popularity in places like Western New York, and throughout the states of Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Beyond bars, you’re likely to find raffles taking place at VFW halls, American Legion posts, and community centers.
The combination of chance and, well, meat makes the idea of a Meat Raffle appealing to people of all ages, as well as folks in big cities and rural areas alike.
Depending on how the raffle is being conducted, you can either buy some tickets, purchase a numbered paint stick, or sign your name on a 10-liner and try your luck. We’re sure there are other methods, which we know people in the comment section are eager to share.
If your number is called, you can take home things like…
Choice cuts of meat, as well as prizes like beer, liquor, brewery swag, gift cards, and a wide variety of other goodies.
And if luck isn’t on your side, you can at least know the money you spent trying to (quite literally) bring home the bacon went to a good cause. You see, raffles—including Meat Raffles—require a special license to be hosted in this state. According to the State Of Wisconsin Department Of Admission:
“Raffle licenses can only be granted to a local religious, charitable, service, fraternal, veterans, or 501(c)(3) organization in Wisconsin, which have been in existence for at least one (1) year or that is chartered by a state or national organization which has been in existence for at least three (3) years. No other individual, business or national/out of state organization may conduct a raffle in Wisconsin.”
Most often, these raffles raise money for charity. Earlier this month, we actually attended two charitable Meat Raffles that were held just a few days apart. The first, which took place at Maritime Tavern in Appleton, raised funds for a cancer charity called Robin’s Nest Fox Cities. The other was a Movember fundraiser that happened at The Newport here in Milwaukee.
Both bars were packed with people as young as their early twenties and as old as their seventies. Some were brought out by the potential of taking home some tasty animal products. Others came to support a worthy cause. We’re sure some were also in attendance on account of the spectacle, the camaraderie, or just because it’s something fun that doesn’t exactly happen every day. That being said, they’re not ultra rare occurrences. In fact, they’re not tough to find if you know where to look!
Though they’re not entirely unique to Wisconsin, it’s safe to say the persisting popularity of the Meat Raffle is yet another quirky, unconventional, and low-key cool thing about living here. They don’t happen everywhere, but they happen all over Wisconsin.
So if you have out-of-state visitors coming this way soon or you’re just looking for a way to shake things up a little during the cold weather months, buy some tickets, purchase a paint stick, or spin a wheel and try your luck at a Meat Raffle. At worst, you’ll come home empty-handed after spending a few hours at a bar for a good cause. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll win a bunch of meat. That sounds like a win-win to us.