Hosting Games of Chance at Charity Events: 4 Things You Should Know

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This guest post was contributed by Harbor Compliance.

Charitable gaming can be a winning ticket for your organization in a number of ways. Game of chance fundraising events can attract and introduce new audiences to your programs and are a memorable activity for your supporters. All this, while attracting financial support for your mission. Charities in the U.S. and Canada bring in more than $1 billion in donations each year through games of chance.1 

Raffles, bingo, and other games of chance provide a fun, unique opportunity for supporters to engage with your charity. Just be sure the fun doesn’t overshadow the regulatory requirements associated with these activities, since foregoing charitable gaming compliance requirements could cause unintended consequences for your nonprofit. 

With a compliance plan in place, you can be on the way to a successful fundraising event for your charity. Here are four tips to make sure your game of chance is a winner. 

1. Researching State and Local Requirements

Some of the games typically allowed for fundraising include raffles, bingo, pull-tab tickets, poker tournaments, and casino nights. While most states allow nonprofits to host charitable gaming activities, there are variations in what games are permitted, the types of licenses required, and guidelines for conducting the gaming event. During the research phase, you can contact state gaming authorities and use resources such as the free Information Center at harborcompliance.com. The Information Center provides charitable gaming license information for each state, including details on permitted game types, prize limits, license types, application fees, and prerequisites for applicants. 

Currently, 41 states plus the District of Columbia require a state license for charitable gaming activities. Some states issue very specific permits that cover raffles, bingo, pull tabs, jar games, door prize contests, poker, or casino game nights, while others issue licenses that cover different combinations of the above. 

You will also want to check with your county and municipal government offices to determine if they require charitable gaming permits. Depending on your venue location, you may need both state and municipal licenses. You may also need multiple license types if different types of games are included in the same event. Some jurisdictions issue temporary licenses that cover a single event, while others are good for one or more years. Several states further divide their raffle, bingo, and gaming licenses into multiple class levels based on prize values, projected receipts, or numbers of participants. Some states will offer limited exemptions for organizations that do not meet an established gross receipts threshold. 

A few states including Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming do not issue state licenses, but you may have other requirements to fulfill. Nonprofits operating in these jurisdictions are required to follow state and local laws governing charitable gaming and typically must obtain a county or municipal license to hold an event. Utah and Hawaii are the only two states that do not allow nonprofits to host any organized gaming events. Hawaii, however, will permit a raffle during a dinner or fundraising event if no additional raffle fee is charged.   

2. Getting the Preparation Right

When seeking a charitable gaming license, you’ll first want to ensure your charity meets the prerequisites for a license, which vary by state. Most states require your organization to have IRS tax exempt status and be registered with the secretary of state. In addition, many states require an organization to have been established for a minimum number of years before their license application will be considered. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Tennessee require a nonprofit to have operated for five continuous years before they are eligible to be considered for a license; Alaska, California, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin require three years for certain gaming activities; and many other states require a minimum of one or two years. 

To obtain a license, nonprofits typically must submit an application form and fee to the relevant regulatory agencies. Many states also require supporting documentation such as articles of incorporation, bylaws, a list of officers, and details on the gaming event location and the people who will assist with the games. Typically, charities are required to assign one or more people to oversee the gaming activities. These individuals may need to submit applications of their own as well.

3. Structuring Your Event Activities 

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of sending out invitations, coordinating the venue, and renting your gaming supplies, be sure you include event compliance in your preparation checklist. Once you have the appropriate license, make sure your event aligns with the activities covered by your permit. Your organization will also want to be sure you follow all other general state and municipal regulations. 

For instance, many local and state jurisdictions do not permit minors to participate in charitable gaming activities. There are also frequently limits on the length of gaming events and the total value of prizes that may be distributed. Charities should also be sure to keep track of the funds that are collected during the event for financial reporting purposes.

4. Maintaining Your Charitable Gaming Compliance 

Don’t roll the dice when it comes to your charity’s gaming compliance! Penalties for unlicensed gaming can be significant.  New Jersey, for example, may impose penalties of up to $7,500 for a first-time violation of state raffle and bingo laws. Nonprofits that are cited for multiple infractions may lose the right to host charitable gaming events going forward. 

Stay current on your local and state jurisdiction requirements and keep your licenses up-to-date. Pay attention to the terms and length of your gaming permits so you can adhere to their limits and renew accordingly.  Most annual licenses are good for multiple gaming events during the calendar year but may include a limit of one event per week. Annual and multiyear licenses generally have a clear expiration date and can be renewed for additional periods. Remember that single-use event permits cannot be renewed but most jurisdictions allow charities to apply for additional permits in the same year. 

Fulfill the requirements for your gaming activities and your charity can host a successful event that raises funds for your mission and provides a memorable experience for your donors. If your nonprofit has questions about charitable gaming compliance or would like help navigating the license application process, Harbor Compliance is here to help. We can prepare materials for the state and local license applications that apply to your specific events, so you can focus on your mission. Get in touch or call us at 1-888-995-5895. 

1. National Association of Fundraising Ticket Manufacturers – Purpose, Annual Reports. Web. www.naftm.org

About the Author

Brock Klinger leads Harbor Compliance​’s nonprofit services sales team. ​He handles charitable solicitation, professional fundraising, commercial co-venture, and charitable gift annuity client relationships across all jurisdictions and industries. Brock’s work also includes nonprofit formation services, industry-specific and occupational licensing, and corporate lifecycle services.

Harbor Compliance is not an accounting or law firm and does not provide tax, financial, or legal advice.

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