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Charities can set example by obeying gambling laws

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Even though Utah is only one of the two remaining states to have strict laws — including a constitutional provision — to prohibit gambling, gambling flourishes and the promoters and participants thumb their noses at law enforcement officials and prosecutors who are required to enforce the law.

No, I'm not talking about the million-dollar lotto jackpots in Idaho or the bingo games at churches and social clubs. I'm talking about the fund-raising done by charities and non-profit organizations of all kinds who solicit their support through gambling schemes.

When it comes to gambling by charities, there seems to be a big misunderstanding about what is prohibited by Utah law and what is not. Gambling is defined by statute as ". . . risking anything of value on the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device when the return or outcome is based upon an element of chance and is in accord with an agreement or understanding someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome, and gambling includes a lottery. . . ."

A lottery is defined as "any scheme for disposal or distribution of property by chance among persons who have paid or promised to pay any valuable consideration for the chance of obtaining property, or portion of it, or for any share or interest in property, upon any agreement, understanding, or expectation that it is to be distributed or disposed of by lot or chance, whether called a lottery, raffle, or gift enterprise, or by whatever name it may be known."

Section 76-10-1106. U.C.A., states that "all prosecuting attorneys, sheriffs, constables and peace officers who have reasonable cause to believe any person has violated any provisions of this part shall diligently prosecute those persons." This section was amended in 1990 because it made prosecutors and police guilty of a misdemeanor if they failed to prosecute gamblers. This seemed a bit harsh on police and prosecutors.

Utah law also provides for the seizure and forfeiture of all gambling bets, gambling proceeds, gambling devices and equipment used or kept for the purpose of gambling.

You will note that nowhere is it mentioned in the Utah Code that gambling is permitted if the proceeds go to a charitable cause. Nor does it state that it is legal if the item of value given is a "donation" to a charity. It should also be noted that the lottery, drawing, raffle, etc., cannot be made legal by simply offering anyone a free chance to win the prize. So long as there is a scheme for the disposal or distribution of property by chance among persons who have paid or promised to pay something of value for the chance to win, it is gambling and is illegal. The fact that some participants may play for free does not change the nature of the scheme. Those who pay to play and those who conduct the gambling scheme are all criminals in the eyes of the law.

The point is that if you or your organization is raising funds at your next charitable event by conducting a lottery, raffle, drawing, or some other scheme that meets the above definitions of gambling, you are violating the law and may be prosecuted and have everything "donated" seized, including the wonderful prizes that sponsors donate. Additionally, you may also be risking the loss of your organization's tax-exempt status with the government. Also, since your patrons cannot lawfully claim a gambling bet as a charitable donation on their taxes, they may be liable to the government for back taxes, interest, and penalties.

I know you are thinking that no prosecutor or law enforcement officer in his right mind would bust any of the many good charitable and non-profit groups who have raised and will continue to raise easy money by conducting illegal lotteries and raffles. Well, you may be right, but perhaps not. The more important point is that you, the people and organizations who represent what is great and noble in our society by giving of yourselves and your wealth to others, should set an example for everyone in the community by obeying the law.


David E. Yocom is Salt Lake County District Attorney.