Regulatory Guidance
September 30, 2021

Online Charitable Gaming and Raffles in California

Disclaimer: This article offers general information and is not intended as legal or professional advice. You should consult with legal counsel regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current as of September 6, 2021, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subject discussed.

Charitable gaming presents a good means of raising funds and awareness for an organization. As a fundraiser, events such as raffles and sweepstakes represent a great balance of low cost and far reach. Few things can drive community engagement as effectively as prizes, making online charitable gaming an attractive option for nonprofits. Nonprofits that are tax-exempt in California are eligible to run raffles and bingo in California.

Charitable gaming and raffles regulatory guidance for California

How does the state of California define charitable gaming?

Charitable gaming in California covers raffles and bingo. These are classified under the California Penal Code as exemptions from the state’s ban on gambling.

  • Raffles: Raffles are allowed under section 320.5 of the California Penal Code so long as the organization is eligible and at least 90% of the funds raised are used for direct charitable giving. Only 10% of the funds raised may be used for running and administering the game/organization.
  • Bingo: Eligible charitable organizations may conduct bingo in California, provided that the county or municipality where the game is taking place allows for bingo. Each county/municipality is allowed to set its own rules for bingo licensure and limits, though the state does have its own regulations.

Who can conduct online charitable gaming events in California?

Despite Article IV, Section 19 of the California Constitution's prohibition on many forms of gambling, the state of California allows tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations meeting certain eligibility requirements to organize and operate raffles and bingo as fundraisers. Such organizations must be registered and licensed under Section 23701 of the Revenue and Taxation Code and should have been operating in California for a minimum of one year.

Licensing and registration requirements for online charitable gaming in California

Types of charitable gaming licenses

The state of California requires licenses for raffles. There is no state license for bingo, however, each city or county may have its own requirements. For instance,

  • Los Angeles County requires that nonprofit organizations obtain a license from the Los Angeles Police Commission Charitable Services Section
  • San Diego County requires a permit from the San Diego Police Department Permits and Licensing department.
  • Orange County requires a permit from the office of the City Manager from whichever city the event will be held in.

How to apply for a charitable raffle license in California?

To apply for a charity raffle license in California, applicants must fill out a form (the type of form depends on the exact status of the nonprofit) which can be found on the State of California Attorney General’s Office website.

How much does a charitable gaming license cost in California?

A charity raffle license in California costs $20. The price of a charity bingo license varies by city and county, however, it may not exceed $50. If a license application is denied, half of the fee may be refunded.

What is the validity of a charitable raffle license in California?

California charitable raffle licenses are valid for one year from the date of issue.

How long does it take to get a  charitable raffle license in California?

Applications must be submitted not less than 60 days prior to the scheduled event. Applications are processed in the order that they are received and no expedited approval is available.

Related: Regulatory Guidance for U.S. States and Canadian Provinces and Territories

Charitable gaming resources for California

Office of the Attorney General
1300 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-9555

California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
P.O. Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279
Phone: 1-800-400-7115

Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841

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