State Politics

‘Gambling on training wheels’? NC House could legalize nonprofit ‘game night’ fundraisers

The computer generated raffle wheel stops on "BICYCLE" and another lucky family wins a Christmas bike from the Triangle Spokes Group and the Salvation Army Wednesday Dec. 18, 2013 in Raleigh, N.C. A House bill would allow charity raffles and other games of chance at restaurants that serve alcohol.
The computer generated raffle wheel stops on "BICYCLE" and another lucky family wins a Christmas bike from the Triangle Spokes Group and the Salvation Army Wednesday Dec. 18, 2013 in Raleigh, N.C. A House bill would allow charity raffles and other games of chance at restaurants that serve alcohol. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Restaurants and bars could host nonprofit fundraisers featuring games of chance and alcohol under a bill that passed the N.C. House Finance Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 511 would create an exemption from the state’s gambling ban for nonprofits that host “game night” events. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. James Boles of Moore County, said many nonprofits are already hosting events because of confusion about the law.

“Presently, you all probably go to game nights at nonprofits, and that’s because your DA elects not to prosecute,” referring to enforcement decisions made by local district attorneys. “Our DA prosecutes ... it’s not balanced in the state of North Carolina.”

If the bill becomes law, groups hosting game nights – which can include raffles, casino-style games and other games with prizes – would need a permit and would be limited in the number of events they can hold per year.

The bill is facing opposition from several conservative Christian groups. Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League says it would create “a de facto form of legalized casinos across the state” and allow “gambling on training wheels.”

“Gambling in any form always causes social disruption and evil,” Creech told the Finance Committee Tuesday. “Gambling is morally flawed because the practice is predicated on the losses of others.”

John Rustin of the N.C. Family Policy Council said the legislation would “create unfair competition between charitable organizations” because nonprofits that help people with gambling or alcohol problems likely wouldn’t want to host the fundraisers. Rustin also pointed to statistics showing the events have high overhead costs, with a high percentage of proceeds going to private companies that run the events.

“The benefit to nonprofits is alarmingly small,” he said. “Nonprofits typically net less than 10 percent of gross revenues.”

The bill has support from the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. It’s also backed by the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, which represents restaurants and hotels that want to host the events but are concerned about legal uncertainty if they serve alcohol.

The restaurant and hotel group’s lobbyist, Frank Gray, dismissed the concerns that the game nights lead to gambling problems.

“If you attend one of these events, you’re making a voluntary contribution to a nonprofit you support – you’re not risking the rent check,” he said.

Several legislators said they’ve attended game night fundraisers and support the bill.

“I have attended these evenings and I found them to be great fun,” said Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat. “Money was raised for a great cause.”

After passing the Finance Committee, the bill now goes to the House floor. Similar proposals have been made in past years but haven’t managed to pass both chambers.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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