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S.C. voters to consider legalizing some raffles

A referendum next year would let nonprofits hold a limited number of raffles

By Seanna Adcox
The Associated Press

COLUMBIA Voters will decide next year whether church cake walks and school raffles will finally become legal in South Carolina.

Schools, churches and other nonprofits could hold a limited number of raffles yearly under measures given final approval in the House this month.

The resolution that puts the question on November 2014 ballots needs no action by Gov. Nikki Haley. A separate measure awaiting her decision lays out how state law would regulate raffles, beginning in 2015, if voters approve.

A signing ceremony last week sent the bill to her desk. She has until Wednesday to veto it, sign it or let it take effect without her signature.

Currently, the only legal raffle in South Carolina is the state lottery. The state is among just four nationwide where raffles are illegal.

They’re held regularly across the state anyway, with enforcement depending largely on whether someone complains to police.

“It makes sense to make it legal so everybody’s on the same field,” sponsoring Sen. Raymond Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, told The Associated Press on Monday. “This is just a commonsense bill.”

Yet, its passage was more than seven years in the making.

Previous efforts to make raffles legal failed as gambling opponents feared the unintended consequences of any change to the state’s centuries-old gambling laws. That fear was magnified when other proposals tried to also legalize kitchen-table poker games and poker-night charity events.

Nonprofit officials and anti-gambling lobbyists worked in the off-session last year to create what Cleary calls “a clean bill with no unintended side effects.”

“Everybody’s pretty happy with it,” said Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council. “I don’t think it will cause anybody to get addicted to gambling or corrupt our politicians. What we’re hoping is that it will simply keep legal what’s already occurring for charities doing such good work.”

Unlike previous versions, the bill allows no poker-themed fundraisers and bars the possibility of organizers profiting from raffles.

Nonprofits could not hire anyone to run them.

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 state could hold up to four raffles yearly. Nonprofits that raffle off a noncash prize worth less than $500 wouldn’t have to register with the state – an exemption intended to allow garden clubs or other civic groups to legally hold an occasional raffle.

The South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations plans to campaign for passage of the constitutional referendum, said its president, Madeleine McGee.

“It’s a wonderful resource. It’s a low-cost, easier way to raise money, and a great tool for using with volunteers,” McGee said.

South Carolina’s Lions clubs have lost $500,000 a year since state law enforcement officers – responding to a complaint – threatened a Tega Cay club that was raffling off a motorcycle. State President Gregg Turner has testified he had to tell the state’s 160 clubs to cease all raffles out of fear members would get arrested.

The drastic drop in revenue means the nonprofit can provide fewer hearing aids, eye surgeries, and vision and hearing screenings.

Under the bill, raffles become illegal again in 2020 unless the Legislature reauthorizes them.

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