'Vegas' nights approved for non-profits

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 09:06 PM

RALEIGH — Nonprofit groups could host fundraisers in the style of a Las Vegas casino night under a bill in the North Carolina House.

The measure in the House Judiciary Committee would allow fundraisers to include poker, craps and other games at hotels, restaurants and other locations.

Charities, trade and union organizations, social welfare groups and others could apply for permits with North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement to host gaming nights that give out non-cash prizes. Nonprofits would be limited to four events per year, and facilities couldn't host more than two fundraisers per week.

Commercial and charitable bingo is legal in the state. Gambling is also legal at a Cherokee casino in the western part of the state and through the North Carolina lottery.

The bill is backed by the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association as well as the NC Center for Nonprofits. They argue it provides thorough regulation for an activity that benefits both groups and already goes on in many parts of the state.

Christian and family-values organizations oppose the bill, saying it could lead to wider gambling and the social ills that come with it.

Whitney Christensen, a lobbyist for the restaurant and lodging group, said the bill helps clarify confusion among hotel owners about whether they can host events that are already in demand. She argued it tightly regulates the practice by including limits on the frequency of events and another provision that says expenses not related to food and beverages can't exceed 50 percent of event proceeds.

"We think these safeguards really make it a balanced bill," she said.

Christensen said the bill is scheduled for a committee debate Wednesday.

Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake and a main sponsor of the bill, noted that the groups aren't handing out cash prizes.

"It's limited in time, scope and number, so I think it's another tool in the toolbox for these legitimate nonprofits to help raise money for good causes," he said.

The NC Center for Nonprofits supports the bill, but its director of public policy, David Heinen, said the group's 1,600 members have been somewhat ambivalent.

"There wasn't a significant outcry for us to push for this," he said. "There hasn't been a significant outcry to oppose it, either."

The North Carolina Family Policy Council argues research into other states that have legalized charity gaming shows that the facilities hosting the events and companies supplying equipment are the true beneficiaries.

John Rustin, the president of the Council, said what at first seems innocuous can lead to relaxed restrictions on the types of prizes, the frequency of events and the emergence of for-profit groups that profit from charitable gambling.

"The more those opportunities are broadened, the more it proliferates into just a perpetual existence of Las Vegas style casino gambling," he said.

Christensen noted that the bill classifies any type of activity that deviates from charitable gaming for prizes as illegal gambling.

"It's just like a raffle but you get to pretend you're in Vegas for a few minutes," she said.