New York Legalizes Credit, Debit Card and Online Charitable Raffle Ticket Sales

I think I have won one single raffle in my life. It was at least a dozen years ago at a Packers bar in the Atlanta area (shout out to TJ’s Sports Bar & Grill!) and I was the lucky recipient of a bucket of beer. Yes, literally a metal pail containing several bottles of beer. I don’t like beer (and I’m from Wisconsin, go figure) and wasn’t allowed to exchange it or take a food credit equivalent, so I made another table very happy that day. I had to pay for my raffle ticket in cash. People in New York state who wish to try to win a beer bucket in a local charity raffle won’t have such a restriction soon, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill which allow for debit and credit sales of charitable raffle tickets, as well as sales over the internet.

Senate Bill S4329, the “Charitable Gaming Act of 2017,” was introduced by Patrick Gallivan in February and referred to the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee. It passed both a Senate and Assembly vote easily in June and was delivered to Governor Cuomo’s desk on December 6th. To the surprise of many – as Cuomo rejected a similar bill last year – he signed it into law on December 18th.

The justification for the bill was simply to give charities the opportunity to raise more money:

Since the authorizing statute [to legalize raffles] was codified there have been considerable advances in technology which necessitates the amendments set forth within this legislation. Furthermore, as proposed, expanding payment, purchasing and advertising options will afford these worthwhile charitable organizations the ability to reach their intended fundraising goals, which in turn will enhance their capability to support vital programs and services within the community.

According to a piece in the Buffalo News, the Buffalo Sabres NHL team, and more specifically the Buffalo Sabres Foundation, the team’s charitable organization, was the group that pushed for SB S4329 the hardest. At each home game, the Sabres run what’s called a 50/50 raffle in which fans can buy raffle tickets with cash and the one person whose ticket is drawn receives half the purse. The other half goes to the Foundation, which uses the money for its charitable causes.

The hockey team isn’t unique in its 50/50 offering. If you have been to a professional sporting event in the U.S. in recent years, odds are you have seen one. For instance, here in Atlanta where I live, the Atlanta Braves baseball team has been holding a 50/50 raffle each game for as long as I can remember. The running total is even shown on a tally board in the stadium for all to see. Winning tickets and prize amounts are published on the Braves’ website. The biggest prize this season was for $11,011 on July 17th, when the Braves hosted the World Champion Chicago Cubs.

And just tonight, I saw the 50/50 advertised in the arena during the Milwaukee Bucks telecast.

Including Buffalo Bandits lacrosse games, the Bullafo Sabres Foundation raised more than $1.1 million last year with 50/50 raffles. The total pot (before it is split) tends to max out at around $25,000 if the Sabres are playing an opponent that draws a strong crowd. 50/50 raffles, according to the Buffalo News, make up about half of the money raised by the Foundation.

Referring to being able to accept cards and sell tickets online, Rich Jureller, president of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation, told the Buffalo News, “It’s really going to create a lot of opportunities for us and any charity that wants to use new technology and new rules we have.”

It makes logical sense. The more ways there are to buy and pay for 50/50 tickets, the more money the Foundation should be able to raise. Jureller said that he envisions people who might have otherwise just broken out a five-dollar bill to buy a ticket being willing to pay ten dollars with a credit card.

Fans might even be able to conveniently use their smartphones to buy 50/50 raffle tickets while at a game or even buy them online while watching the game at home.

While one might extrapolate this minor expansion of gambling in New York to be a positive sign for future poker legislation, there is actually a poker connection here. The Buffalo Sabres Foundation hired Park Strategies LLC a number of years ago to lobby on its behalf on this issue. The Founder and Managing Director of Park Strategies LLC is former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato. D’Amato is also the Chairman of the Board of the Poker Players Alliance.

The new law will take effect six months from the date it was signed. In the meantime, the New York State Gaming Commission will firm up the regulations for the new rules. Still up in air is how exactly online sales will work and specifically from how far away from the raffle organization – be it a sports team, a church, a school, a fire department, or whatever – a ticket buyer is allowed to be. One would think it unlikely that I could sit here in Atlanta and buy a ticket raffled off by, say, the Suffern Fire Department. But could someone in an adjacent county? Two counties away? Could anyone in the local broadcast area by a Sabres 50/50 ticket? All that will be determined.

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