COLUMBIA — Church cake walks and quilt raffles may finally become legal in South Carolina, as gambling opponents who’ve long blocked raffle-enabling legislation are giving a thumbs-up to the latest version.
Schools, churches and other nonprofits could hold a limited number of regulated raffles yearly under legislation advanced Wednesday by a Senate panel. Voters must first approve changing the state constitution to allow it. The panel approved a separate measure that puts that question before voters in November 2014.
Currently, the only legal raffle in South Carolina is the state lottery. The state is among just four nationwide that outlaws raffles.
Raffles are held regularly across the state anyway. But enforcement of the ban is selective, depending largely on whether someone complains to law enforcement officers.
Previous efforts to make raffles legal have failed as gambling opponents feared the unintended consequences of any change to the state’s centuries-old gambling laws.
But those concerns seem to be allayed. The idea’s previous opponents said Wednesday they support the latest proposal.
“This tightens it up very well,” said Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council, noting that people are unlikely to become addicted to raffles. “We think it’s a great effort and solves the problem.”
“Beautiful!” responded the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who has long advocated throwing out the antiquated ban, said the bill would take South Carolina into the 21st century and help nonprofits harmlessly raise money to do good works across the state. As McConnell stepped down from his post last year as Senate president pro tem – after former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned – he cited the raffle legislation as something he’d wanted to see through. Now that McConnell is overseeing the Office on Aging, he said, he frequently encounters elderly residents who want to raise money for their senior centers by selling quilts and other crafts.
“But their hands are tied,” he said. “It’s a bad law. It’s outdated.”
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 non-cash 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.
Sen. Wes Hayes, the Senate’s chief gambling opponent, said he’s comfortable with this bill, which should go a long way to easing any other legislator’s concerns.
“We’ve been wanting this to pass for the longest time,” said Jackie Richards of Family Connection of SC, which advocates for disabled children.
The recession has exacerbated the ban’s impact on nonprofits, she said.
“When the collapse of the economy occurred, people had to pull in their wallets. They’ve not let go of them yet,” she said. “We need help. We really want this to pass.”
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, said state president Gregg Turner.
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, Turner said.
“Selective enforcement is a major problem,” said Turner, who’s been pushing for legislation for more than seven years. “Either we need to find a way to once and for all pass this bill so charitable organizations can operate within the law or we need to enforce the law.”