Rep. Jim Merrill said it well: “It took years, but common sense has won the day.”
He was talking about a bill to decriminalize charity raffles.
While it sounds innocuous, its legislative path has been difficult. In past years, related bills failed because people were worried that legalizing charity raffles would lead to legalized gambling.
This time a bill sponsored by Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, won House approval with hardly a murmur. It needs only Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature to put it before the voters in November of 2014. She is expected to sign.
Perhaps the meticulously constructed legislation, with its ample caveats, put legislators’ minds at ease: Proceeds must go to charitable purposes, raffles must be conducted by the nonprofit itself, no one can be paid to run a raffle, they will be regulated by the S.C. secretary of state,
There is a $50 registration fee for charities raffling items that are valued at $500 or more and a limit of $40,000.
And the bill must be reauthorized in five years. So if citizens don’t like what they see, they can push to rescind it.
Perhaps it was the support of the Baptist-backed Palmetto Family Alliance that comforted lawmakers.
Or perhaps, as Rep. Merrill, R-Daniel Island, conjectures, constituents have been squawking. While it hasn’t happened yet, the possibility does exist that a church lady selling raffle tickets for a new toaster oven could be arrested under the existing law.
So if you’ve been socking away money just in case you needed it to bail out your raffle-happy grandparent, you probably can stop. Use it to buy some raffle tickets instead. Legally, and for a good cause.
Rep. Merrill submitted a similar bill in the House, but agreed to support the Senate’s bill to ensure passage this year.
Previous caution was not ill-advised. Video poker was a $2.8 billion industry in South Carolina before it was outlawed. The human, societal and economic costs of gaming were significant. It took years for the state to shut down the industry, and now it threatens to return in a slightly different form. Lawmakers should close that loophole quickly.
That’s a far cry, however, from non-profit organizations raffling off items. For some, a raffle could mean the difference between being able to pay the power bill or not.
Churches, synagogues and houses of worship and other non-profits challenge our communities to be better. They often model kindness, and they offer help. They fill needs that government doesn’t.
By approving the raffle bill and agreeing to alter the state’s constitution to comport with the change, the General Assembly recognized the valuable role of non-profits.