NJ charities frustrated they can’t run raffles online in pandemic — yet
Among the many fiscal casualties of COVID-19: Raffles and bingo fundraisers that New Jersey charities rely on.
As the pandemic has stretched on for roughly nine months, about 12,000 charities and nonprofits registered to conduct such games of chance in-person have been left floundering for funds. Many activities have shifted online, but state law currently does not allow for fully remote raffles.
State Sen. Vin Gopal of Monmouth County (D-11) said it's a need he recognized over the summer, when in June he introduced legislation to allow for such remote fundraising efforts by charities -- including educational, religious and veterans groups.
Gopal said since then, some floor amendments have been made and he is hoping to get the legislation moved by December.
“We’re headed in the right direction," he said. "We’re just trying to work with the Attorney General’s Office on making sure this is done the right way.”
The sstate senator said oversight is necessary to make sure the method does not open the door to scammers who might set up phony charitable efforts as a way of cheating participants.
“The Legalized Games of Chance Commission fully appreciates the impact of COVID-19 on the ability of non-profit organizations to continue to raise critically important funds during the pandemic, and is dedicated to helping such organizations sustain their work within the constraints of the law,” a spokesperson for the Division of Consumer Affairs said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.
The spokesperson continued: "(The) commission stands ready to provide information and assist efforts to modify the law in ways that are consistent with its mission, and has been working with nonprofit organizations to identify alternatives to in-person events, such as live streaming video of the raffle drawings, that would be permitted under existing law.”
Karen Azarchi, president of EASEL Animal Rescue League, said compared Pennsylvania, New Jersey makes it very difficult for nonprofits to obtain licenses or run events.
"The statutes are outdated, allowing only for a small winnings, not accounting for inflation," she said in a written message to New Jersey 101.5. "I believe the laws are decades old. This limits what we can sell by value. Also, 50/50 raffles are not allowed on the internet. Since our in-person fundraising has been eliminated there are very few options for a nonprofit to make money,"
Azarchi said a remote 50/50 "would be a great way to make money."
Gopal said among the issues being dealt with, some of the charitable groups — including VFWs and American Legions — still want to be able to mail checks in or deal with cash for fundraisers with some remote element, so there needs to be attention to that process.
The state senate offices have been getting an “alarming number” of calls from the public about phony charitable efforts during the pandemic that have turned out to be scams, according to Gopal. Thsoe have particularly impacted the senior communities.
So, “We are trying to do this conscientiously,” he said.
JAR of Hope is among nonprofits looking for the change to happen sooner than later, since it has a convertible Ford Mustang waiting to be raffled off, but has been unable to sell tickets online.
JAR of Hope is dedicated to awareness and funding research to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The nonprofit's founder and CEO, Jim Raffone, is motivated by his own son's condition.
Raffone recently posted a Facebook video from the showroom floor at All American Ford in Old Bridge, with the sports car as a backdrop, hoping to gain more attention for the restrictions facing charities with an online petition.
Gopal said among all the affected groups, the ones he has heard the most from are the senior veteran's organizations, which he said are "running dry" on funds at this point. He said typically they hold a couple of fundraising events during the year, which then feed into efforts like scholarship programs, which are also bare, this far into the pandemic.
As the legislation on allowing remote raffles is pending, organizations with questions about the parameters of pandemic fundraising in New Jersey can contact officials by email at AskConsumerAffairs@dca.lps.state.nj.us, or by calling 973-273-8000.
Note: New Jersey 101.5's news director, Annette Petriccione, volunteers with EASEL. Petriccione did not take part in the writing or editing of this story.