Game-day raffles held by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation will likely continue this season despite one legislator’s assertions that the fundraising events are on legally ambiguous ground.
Del. Doyle L. Niemann, D-Prince George’s, said “an inadequate interpretation” of county and state law is allowing the team to continue to hold the 50-50 raffles and said legislation is needed to not only make intentions clear, but also to regulate how tickets are sold and where the winnings can be spent.
“The current language is unclear,” Niemann said of current law.
Last year, the team’s charitable foundation held 10 raffles at FedEx Field in Landover. Tickets were sold in blocks from three for $5 to 15 tickets for $20. The foundation split the proceeds 50-50 with the winner, according to the foundation’s website. Winners have the choice of taking cash or merchandise.
As long as the cash winnings remained under a $5,000 cap set by county law, there was no issue, according to Niemann.
But Niemann said an interpretation by the county allowing winners to accept any amount of merchandise or the cash value of that merchandise was suspect and needed clarification.
On two occasions, the cash prize for the winner was valued at more than $5,200. And a third time, the prize was worth nearly $7,500.
Of particular concern to Niemann is making sure that the raffles are regulated.
Niemann, who led an effort to clarify the law in the most recent General Assembly session, said he wants to avoid the potential for online sales and ensure that the money raised by the foundation be spent on charities inside the county where the stadium is located.
Online sales could eventually morph into online gambling, said Niemann, who has been an outspoken opponent of gambling.
“Gambling fundamentally is a scam,” Niemann said. “You don’t win.”
Niemann said he had the support of the team. House Bill 965, which failed to be voted on in the House Ways and Means Committee, also had the support of the Prince George’s County government, according to Scott L. Peterson, a Prince George’s County spokesman.
Multiple attempts to reach Redskins officials about the raffles were unsuccessful.
Niemann said the issue is not with the performance of the team’s charity but with making sure that the raffles are not circumventing the existing law.
“To be fair to the foundation, they’ve been very responsible,” Niemann said. “They raised this issue very early.”
The bill proposed by Niemann, a three-term delegate who is running for Prince George’s County Council, would have removed the cap and made it clear that the winner could accept winnings in cash or merchandise or a combination in any amount.
“You could argue that the $5,000 cap also applies to merchandise,” Niemann said. “The interpretation by the county negates the purpose of the cap. The language can be interpreted that way and has for the purposes of allowing this raffle.”
Under the bill as proposed, the team would have been restricted to selling tickets at preseason and regular-season games and only at the stadium. Online sales would have been prohibited. The team would also have been required to purchase a one-day permit from the county for each raffle. The county charges $15 per permit.
The money raised by the raffle would have to be spent on charities in Prince George’s County, and the team would be required to send a report to the county detailing its raffles. The team would also be required report annually to the county on its raffle events.
Last year, the foundation raised nearly $37,000, according to its website, and distributed funds to six Washington-area charities, none of them specifically based in Prince George’s County.
In light of the failure to pass legislation at the state level, Niemann said he expects the raffles will continue. It’s an issue he said that either the General Assembly or the Prince George’s County Council should address.
“It’s just me being a picky lawyer, but I’d rather have things clear,” Niemman said. “It’s a good idea to clarify what the law is and put in some regulations.”