South Carolina churches, charities break law with fundraising raffles

Churches in South Carolina better think twice before they hold their next raffle or cake walk.

Unbeknownst to many churches and charities, raffles are illegal in the state. The education lottery is South Carolina's only legal form of gambling.

Repeated efforts in the House of Representatives on Thursday to allow churches, schools and charities to hold these fundraisers failed.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, and his backers fell short Thursday of a two-thirds majority needed to waive a House rule that bills be on the House calendar for a day.

Had the bill gained approval from the General Assembly, it would have appeared as a question on the November ballot. Voters would have ultimately decided whether the raffles should be legalized.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, the bill's chief sponsor, said he was perplexed by opposition to the measure.

"In the bill, we have defined who can hold raffles very narrowly. Charities are holding them already. I really don't understand what's the problem," Merrill said, adding that the bill prohibits gambling by machine or on live sporting events and requires that at least 90 percent of the money raised from raffles go to charity.

The bill also bans outside contractors from conducting the raffles.

Merrill came up with the bill after his local Rotary Club phoned. Members had been told by police that their annual duck race, where rubber ducks "race" down a river to benefit a charitable cause, was illegal.

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