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 Aug 10, 2021, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subject discussed.
One of the biggest growth areas in fundraising in recent years is charitable gaming and raffles. Given its potential and fast-paced adoption, it is vital to understand the local regulations that govern how such raffles and charitable games must be constituted. Organizations looking to take advantage of this fundraising trend must carefully adhere to legal restrictions at both local and federal levels, or potentially face costly fines or sanctions.
Charitable gaming and raffles regulatory guidance for Massachusetts
How does the state of Massachusetts define charitable raffles?
The state lottery commission, which controls all such activities, defines charitable raffles as:
“an arrangement for raising money by the sale of tickets, certain among which, as determined by chance after the sale, entitle the holders to prizes.”
Additionally, the law requires that the promotion and operation of the raffle be limited only to the qualified members of the sponsoring organization and no such member shall receive compensation in any form for their time or effort devoted to the promotion and operation of such raffle. In addition, all raffle proceeds must be used for educational, charitable, religious, fraternal or civic purposes or for veterans' benefits.
Massachusetts has no law that expressly allows raffle ticket sales over the internet, but such online sales are not expressly prohibited. The statutes and related regulations suggest that any computer equipment and software involved in determining the winning raffle numbers must be located in the permitting Massachusetts city or town.
Nothing in Massachusetts statutes or regulations prohibits the conduct of a charitable raffle via online means where the raffle otherwise is conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to obtaining necessary permit(s), the necessary “signatures” by the raffle ticket seller and purchaser (electronically) on each half of each ticket sold, making all mandated disclosures, awarding all prizes per the published terms of the raffle and maintaining all required records. Please refer to the legal opinion provide by GreenbergTraurig for additional information. Organizations wishing to hold online raffles should consult an attorney who can provide guidance on all legal requirements before conducting an online raffle.
How to obtain the required signatures on raffle tickets sold in Massachusetts?
The Ascend technology can help you solve for the State requirement to capture a signature from both the buyer and seller of the raffle ticket.
During the checkout process the purchaser will be required to check a box which states, “By checking this box you agree that your first and last name as listed above will act as your signature for the purchase of this ticket”. In addition to the check box used to gain the purchasers signature, the eTicket sent to the customer will include an electronic signature of a bonafide member of the nonprofit license holder.
This method acts in compliance with the federal E-Sign Act which defines an electronic signature as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the into to sign the record.”
Beano or Bingo games are regulated by the Lottery Commission. For more information, visit the Lottery Commission website, or call (781) 849-5555.
Who can conduct charitable gaming raffles in Massachusetts?
Gaming events such as raffles, casino or Las Vegas nights, or poker tournaments may only be conducted by a non-profit organization (whether or not incorporated) that has been organized and actively functioning in Massachusetts for at least two years, and is one of the following:
- Veterans' organization chartered by Congress;
- Church or religious organization;
- Fraternal or fraternal benefit society, such as an Elks Club or union:
- Educational or charitable organization;
- Civic or service club; or
- Other club or organization operated exclusively for nonprofit purposes.
A nonprofit that is a public charity must register with the Attorney General's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division and must be in compliance with the reporting requirements prior to conducting a gaming event. The law exempts certain organizations from having to register with the AGO. These organizations still need to follow the law and regulations in order to hold a raffle. If you do not know if your organization is a public charity, please visit General FAQs about Charities.
The public charity must also be in possession of a Certificate of Solicitation. If the public charity is unable to document its compliance with the reporting and certificate requirements, it should contact the AGO's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division.
Licensing requirements for online charitable gaming in Massachusetts
A nonprofit organization may hold a raffle to award various prizes that are announced in advance, such as a motorcycle, trip or television. If, however, the prize is cash (such as in the case of a 50/50 raffle where the winner receives 50% of the proceeds) or a portion of the prize is derived from the raffle proceeds, the raffle may run afoul of the prohibition against pooling.
How to apply for a charitable raffle permit in Massachusetts
Before conducting a raffle, the organization must obtain a raffle/bazaar permit from the City or Town clerk where the raffle is going to be held. The permit application must include:
- Name and address of the nonprofit or charity.
- Eligibility evidence (proof of nonprofit or charitable status).
- Names of three responsible officers for the game, event, or raffle.
- The use to which proceeds will be put.
If the permit is not granted within 30 days, a judicial review can be sought.
If a raffle's ticket price is more than $10 or the raffle has a prize worth more than $10,000, there are additional requirements which can be found on the government of Massachusetts website.
What is the process to obtain a charitable raffle permit in Massachusetts?
The process to obtain a permit is as follows:
- The permit application is submitted and reviewed by the City or Town Clerk.
- It then goes to the Chief of Police who decides whether or not to endorse it.
- If endorsed by the Police Chief, it is returned to the Clerk who issues the permit.
- The Clerk issues a permit valid for one calendar year and sends a copy to the Commissioner of Public Safety and to the Lottery Commission.
- The Lottery Commission sends a financial form for the organization to complete within 10 days after the raffle is completed.
- If the application is not endorsed by the Chief of Police or not approved by the Clerk within 30 days of applying, the organization may seek judicial review in the District Court.
How much does a charitable raffle permit cost in Massachusetts?
There is a small filing fee set by each municipality. In Boston, for instance, the city clerk charges $30 per application.
What is the validity of a charitable gaming license in Massachusetts?
The raffle permit is valid within the municipality that issues it. It is valid for one year from the date of issue and must be renewed annually. There is no limit on the number of online raffles or charitable games that can be held within that period.
Within 30 days following the charitable event, the organization must file two copies of a financial report certified by the three responsible officers and an accountant with the city clerk. One copy will be forwarded to the Commissioner of Public Safety.
Charitable raffle resources for Massachusetts
Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Attorney General's Office
Office of the Attorney General, Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division
One Ashburton Place, Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 963-2101
Here is a list of useful organizations and resources for more information: