Raffles now legal with approval of lottery

Saturday, December 4th 2004, 11:34 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Several years ago, state Sen. Frank Shurden was visiting a senior citizens center in Checotah when he spotted Henrietta Scroggins pouring over a pile of $1 bills on her desk.

``What are you doing, Henrietta?'' the senator said he asked her.

``'Well, we had a raffle and the attorney general says it's illegal and I'm trying to figure out who gave what and how to get the money back to them,''' Shurden said Scroggins, director of the center, told him.

Shurden said with voter approval of a state lottery on Nov. 2, civic clubs, churches and other groups no longer have to fear running afoul of the law for conducting raffles.

Raffles are now legal for nonprofit organization thanks to legislation enacted by the Legislature in 2003 that was tied to adoption of the Oklahoma Educational Lottery Act.

``Definitely good news,'' said Harry Trottier, McCurtain County fire chief who also heads up a volunteer fire department in the tiny community of Texanna in eastern Oklahoma.

For years, Trottier said, the fire agency raised money for equipment by raffling off everything from television sets, to microwaves, to handmade quilts.

``Those quilts made by the ladies' auxiliary brought a lot of money. One time one of them brought about $1,500,'' he said.

Shurden, D-Henryetta, and state Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, were principal authors of Senate Bill 837, which has the effect of overturning a 1998 attorney general's opinion that said lotteries were illegal, even if conducted by nonprofit organizations.

The opinion classified raffles as lotteries, a form of Class 3 gaming, which was illegal in the state.

Over the years, efforts by Shurden and others to legalize the longtime practice were blocked by legislators who said that would expand gaming among American Indian tribes.

Other lawmakers opposed raffles on moral grounds, saying they are a form of gambling that schools and churches should not sponsor.

Shurden said the situation left nonprofit groups without one of their most successful ways of raising money for needed projects.

``Those who participated in these raffles usually gave a dollar here or a dollar there because the money was going to a worthwhile cause,'' he said. ``They were not doing it to gamble.''

Julia Reed, assistant executive director of Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City, said she was unaware that raffles are again legal.

``I imagine it would have a big impact on parochial schools,'' she said.

The legislation prevents groups from hiring an outside organization to conduct a raffle.

Neal Leader, assistant attorney general, said he has had several calls from churches, school groups and others wanting to know the legal status of raffles.

Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said he has had numerous calls from school superintendents wanting to use raffles to raise funds.

While the lottery paved the way for raffles to be legal again, other strong antigambling laws remain on the books, officials said.

For instance, it is still unlawful for people to play poker and other card games for money, even though voter approval of another proposition is expected to greatly expand casino-type gambling in the state.

George Burnett, veteran assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, said those playing such card games can be charged with a misdemeanor.

He said a person can even be charged with a felony for ``causing to open or conducting'' games of chance.

Burnett said people have been charged with after throwing dice in public parks.

He said anyone operating a gambling enterprise for profit ``will certainly draw the attention'' of police.

As far as a friendly, penny-ante poker game, he said he could not remember any prosecutions in recent years.

``Obviously, you would have search and seizure issues involved in that, with getting a search warrant,'' he said.

But he said such cases could be prosecuted under the law.