Make Raffles Legal In S.C.

 

Many churches that have raffled off cakes or homemade crafts to raise money for worthy projects probably didn’t realize they were breaking state law. Despite good intentions, they were defying the centuries-old law that bans gambling of any kind.

Currently, the only legal raffle in South Carolina is the state lottery. And gambling opponents have been reluctant to change the law out of fear it would provide a loophole for organized gambling.

But that soon could change. Lawmakers who want to make it legal for churches and other nonprofit agencies to hold raffles have fashioned a revised law that appears to satisfy gambling opponents.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, one of the Senate’s most adamant gambling foes, recently said he is comfortable with the bill, which should help ease concerns of others.

Changing the law would require passage of a constitutional amendment. A separate bill would define the new rules regarding future raffles. Both bills would appear on the 2014 ballot and, if approved by voters, would take effect in 2015.

Last week, the state Senate took back-to-back 38-1 votes approving the bills. After one more vote in the Senate, the legislation will head to the House.

The measure outlining the new rules allows no poker-themed fundraisers and bars the possibility that anyone could profit from the raffles. Nonprofits also would be barred from hiring an outside group to run the raffle.

The bill sets a maximum ticket cost at $100 and caps the total value of prizes at $250,000 per raffle. Nonprofits registered with the secretary of the state could hold up to four raffles annually. Nonprofits that raffle off a non-cash prize worth less than $500 wouldn’t have to register with the state, which would allow smaller groups such as garden clubs and other civic groups to avoid some of the red tape.

Even though raffles now are illegal in the state, enforcement has been spotty. Officers often quietly ignore them unless someone complains.

But the law can have significant consequences even when the group holding the raffle is well intentioned. For example, a Tega Cay Lion’s Club was forced to shut down a raffle for a motorcycle after someone complained to state law enforcement officers.

As a result, the state’s 160 Lions clubs also decided to cease all raffles. As a result, the clubs lost an estimated $500,000 a year in charitable money that could have been used to provide hearing aids, eye surgeries, vision and hearing screenings and other projects traditionally sponsored by the Lions.

South Carolina is one of only four states in the nation to ban raffles outright. The state ought to have a law that makes a clear distinction between a legitimate charitable event sponsored by nonprofits and a for-profit gambling operation.

The state also needs a law that reflects reality. Raffles are being held across the state despite the fact that they are illegal.

They should be sanctioned and regulated rather than quietly ignored. We hope lawmakers will give voters the chance to amend the constitution to finally revise this antiquated law.

Editorial first published on February 18, 2013 on the heraldonline.com