MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Margaret Johnson figured she was simply donating to charity when she spent $20 on 40 raffle tickets during a recent Minnesota Twins baseball game.
"When they put the winning number on the Jumbotron, I was quite confident it would not be ours," said Johnson, a 51-year-old nurse who splits her time between Minneapolis and San Antonio, Texas.
Instead, Johnson took home just more than $1,400 Tuesday in the Twins Split the Pot Raffle. The other half of the money went to the Friends of St. Paul Baseball and the Twins Community Fund, two Twin Cities nonprofits that seek to enrich lives through baseball participating in baseball. Some teams call that type of charitable gambling a "50/50 raffle."
With each new sports season, more teams are latching on to the raffle game. Football's Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills went live last season, joining several other clubs. The latest baseball franchises to go that route are the Twins and St. Louis Cardinals. The tickets can be found in basketball arenas and pro hockey rinks. Even some collegiate stadiums are adding the feature, such as Michigan State.
But as the games spread, teams and their allied charities are encountering government bureaucracies. In Minnesota, one charity brought on a pair of lobbyists this month to help obtain gambling licenses to pave the way for the high-tech Twins games. The team waded into the raffle last year on a limited basis and is now selling tickets at almost every home game.
A bill before California's Legislature would write special raffle rules for nonprofits associated with pro sports leagues that allow them to pay out 50 percent as prize money. That has angered other groups that conduct raffles in the state which, under existing law, must devote at least 90 percent of ticket sale proceeds to the underlying charitable cause. The bill faces a Friday deadline to advance through the Assembly or it is considered dead for the year.
"It's a trend, not just in baseball, but across sports," said Michael Hall, vice present of community relations for the Cardinals and executive director of Cardinals Care, a nonprofit that focuses on helping St. Louis metro-area youth. "It's a good way to raise funds while giving fans a way to win as well."