From my observations, there has been an uptick in the number of so-called “raffles” being run in the local area. This increase is both inside and outside the competitive pinball and classic arcade scene.
Unfortunately, not all of these are legal raffles. Some of them are illegal lotteries, either through willful or wanton disregard for state law. While I am not a lawyer and I don’t consider this to be legal advice, the law is pretty clear if you take the time to read it.
The first requirement under Texas law (Occupations Code § 2002) is that the money has to go to a qualified organization. Usually this is a 501(c) non-profit (not necessarily 501(c)(3) and not legally required to specifically be 501(c)(3)) that has existed for at least 3 years. There are other legally allowed beneficiaries such as volunteer fire departments and volunteer paramedic services.
It is never, ever, legal to raffle off an item and just get put the money in somebody’s pocket without it going through a qualified organization, no matter what the reason. If you do that, you’re running an illegal lottery, plain and simple. It is your right and your responsibility to determine who the qualified organization is. Personally, if I found out after the fact that I bought a ticket for an illegal lottery without realizing it, I would go ask for my money back. If you find yourself in this situation, what you do is up to you, and you may or may not decide to do that.
My authority as commissioner ends outside of the events run under the auspices of the Bayou City Pinball League. I can say that when I wrote the rule book, I did add rule 22.15 for a reason which requires commissioner approval for all raffle tickets sold at BCPL events. Outside of those events, you would do well to assume that something is not a legally authorized raffle without doing your homework and asking the questions.1 Someone running a legally compliant raffle should have no issue with those questions.
There are no legal restrictions on many other fundraisers like silent auctions. There are many other ways to leverage donated items for fundraising if you do not have the help of an organization which qualifies to legally run a raffle.
A large part of the reason I started to Bayou City Pinball League was to help restore the reputation of pinball as a game played by law abiding citizens. I believe this is a worthy goal and this is something that should still be an issue in 2023.
Shawn K. Quinn
Commissioner, Bayou City Pinball League
1Unless, of course, the questions have already been answered in an event annoucement/posting.
[Edited 2023-08-28 to fix speech-to-text glitch and add footnote.]