As soon as a woman helping her church raise money for the poor takes a dollar and hands over a raffle ticket for a blender, she becomes a crook. In South Carolina, at least.
An outdated — and murky — state law outlaws charitable raffles at the same time it outlaws serious for-profit gambling rings.
Legislative efforts to address misguided portions of the law have failed in recent years under pressure from conservative Christians who fear even raffles could open the door to more gambling.
A new, more tightly worded bill has passed the Senate and might just pass the House this year. It should.
Fortunately, Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, is interested in the raffle issue. He has introduced his own similar bill to address the raffle issue and said he hopes to work out a bill that will work for the House and the Senate.
The basis for discussion appears to be sound:
■ The House bill would make raffles (but not other kinds of gambling) legal for nonprofits, but with caveats that should put skeptical minds to rest.
■ Net proceeds must go to charitable purposes.
■ Raffles must be conducted by the nonprofit, not a third party.
■ No one can be paid to run a raffle.
■ The S.C. secretary of state will regulate raffles.
■ Nonprofits may pay $50 a year for permission to hold raffles of items that are at least $500 in value. Organizations are exempt from registration if the prize is less valuable.
■ Fines go to the General Fund.
■ Raffle advertising must state the charitable purposes to which proceeds will go and the percentage of raffle proceeds over the previous two years that did not go to charitable purposes.
■ No prizes worth more than $40,000, or no real estate may be raffled.
If the bill is enacted, the people still have a voice. The law would require a constitutional amendment, and that requires a referendum.
And on the off chance that the legislation overlooked a loophole, the legislation must be reauthorized in five years. If it isn’t working as hoped, legislators could refuse to authorize it.
As testament to the bill’s credibility, the Baptist-backed Palmetto Family Alliance has joined with the S.C. Association of Nonprofits, the United Way Association and the Lions Club to support the bill.
In an effort to keep the deleterious affects of gambling out of South Carolina, legislators have made criminals out of churches and civic groups raising money by raffling off parking places or front-row seats at the football game.
Surely that is not in the best interest of the state.
The Legislature should take this opportunity to amend the constitution and decriminalize raffles.