It’s not online poker, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to little fanfare a week and a half ago that allows charities to accept credit and debit cards for raffles as well as sell raffle tickets over the internet. The “Charitable Gaming Act of 2017” was introduced in February and passed both the House and Senate in June. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill last year and it came as a surprise to many when he gave his seal of approval to this one.

When one thinks of charity raffles, one often thinks of churches or schools. The driving force behind the efforts to get this law passed, though, was the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and specifically its nonprofit arm, the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. The Sabres run a “50/50” raffle at every home game (41 of them per year, not counting playoffs) in which fans in attendance can buy raffle tickets with cash. The winner of the raffle receives 50 percent of the pot, with the other half going to the Foundation for its charitable causes.

According to the Buffalo News, the Foundation raised $1.1 million from 50/50 sales last year (it also holds the raffle at Buffalo Bandits lacrosse games), a number which made up more than half of the money it raised from all events.

Rich Jureller, president of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation, was very pleased about the new law, telling the Buffalo News, “It’s really going to create a lot of opportunities for us and any charity that wants to use new technology and new rules we have.”

One of the problems the Sabres have had with the 50/50 is that tickets could only be purchased with cash. The Charitable Gaming Act of 2017 will allow debit and credit card purchases, giving fans more options.

“It should certainly help us sell more tickets. And I’d imagine someone with $5 in cash would want to spend $10 [with a card],” Jureller said.

And of course, being able to expand sales to the internet could boost charitable raffles even more. The Buffalo Sabres Foundation imagines fans just pulling out their smartphones while at the games and buying raffle tickets as a matter of convenience. Fans watching the games on television could also participate.

The new law will take effect in six months. At that time, charities can begin advertising raffles online (and via newspaper, magazine, and other physical means, as well) and take debit and credit card sales over the internet.

The bill itself does not stipulate where raffle ticket buyers must be located, but it sounds like there will be some limitations. According to the Buffalo News piece, Senator Patrick Gallivan said that online sales will be restricted to customers local to the charitable organization. The Sabres, though, “believe it can sell online to people in Erie County and eight surrounding counties, except to people who are buying tickets while located in any locality that might ban the online sales.”

A spokesman for the state’s Gaming Commission said that the New York’s raffle law states that “charities can sell raffle tickets outside its premises provided local governments have OK’d such games of chance within their jurisdictions. Those sales can occur in the county in which the charity is located or in contiguous counties only if the charity has been gotten a raffle-selling license from those localities.”

Everything will be ironed out as the Gaming Commission determines the regulations over the next six months.

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