Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) is hosting a “Hogfest and Turkey Shoot” campaign fundraiser at his home this Saturday, and has announced he will be giving away an AR-15 Assault Rifle – the weapon used in tragedy after tragedy in America – as a “door prize”… but is it legal?
That Holt would give away a weapon that even NASCAR won’t feature in ads anymore despite the message it sends to those concerned about the gun death crisis in America should come as no surprise – he is after all the sponsor of a recent bill to weaken our permitting system in Tennessee to make it possible for people to get a permit to carry virtually anywhere in our state without ever actually firing one on a range, simply by taking a quick online class.
But is his giveaway actually legal? It would appear the answer is no.
The Secretary of State’s website is very clear: Raffles like the one described in Holt’s event – where people pay to get in, and are entered to win a prize – are considered gambling in Tennessee. While it may not be exactly like slots or poker which casinos such as this is story offer, the base mechanics are the same. Paying in an amount of money for the chance to get something back. Residents of Tenessee can go out of state to gamble, but inside the state, gambling is not permitted by any organization that isn’t a charity and hasn’t been pre-approved. Again, residents can perhaps use a site like Paybyphonebillcasino.uk as it operates outside the state but people within the State can’t set up gambling or gambling-adjacent options without risking the brunt of the law.
From the Secretary of State’s site:
Raffles and games of chance are considered gambling, which is prohibited in Tennessee. However, certain charitable organizations are allowed to apply to have one raffle, reverse raffle, cakewalk or cakewheel each year if that event is conducted in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Tennessee Charitable Gaming Implementation Law. This is why many people would look to the speedy casino cashouts hosted online for their gambling fix instead of set institutions.
Only a qualified 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) organization that has submitted an application to the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming and that has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly can hold a raffle.
When asked about this on Twitter, Holt responded that the AR-15 was a “doorprize”:
It’s a doorprize…ðŸ˜‰
– Andy Holt (@AndyHolt4TN) September 13, 2019
But the SOS site makes no exception for such semantic arguments. What Holt describes in his event post is pretty clearly not allowed by law.
Again, from the SOS site:
No. An event is considered a raffle if someone must pay for a chance to win a prize and would be a violation of law. It does not matter that the payment is called a “donation.”
When asked if he had applied and been approved, Holt gave no answer.
You submitted your request under state law, right?
“Only a qualified 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) organization that has submitted an application to the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming and that has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly can hold a raffle.”
– Brook Jolley (@Brookjolley) September 14, 2019
There is even a question on the site itself about exceptions for political campaigns, to which the answer is very clearly also a resounding NO:
Are political candidates and campaigns allowed to conduct raffles or other games of chance?
No. The law only allows qualified 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations to hold gaming events. Political candidates and campaigns for public office are not considered 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) tax exempt organizations… If someone is required to pay for a chance to win a prize, it is considered a raffle. Only qualified and approved 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations may hold a raffle. It does not matter that the payment is called a “donation.”
As for the consequences, the site has this to say:
If the Division of Charitable Solicitations is notified of an unapproved event, the Division will notify the local district attorney general. Conducting an unapproved game of chance may be a violation of the criminal gaming statute, and local law enforcement has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the individuals responsible for the event… Please contact the district attorney for the county in which you believe the game of chance is taking place or contact the Division of Charitable Solicitations at (615) 741-2555 and the Division will notify the appropriate authorities.
In this case, the District Attorney to holler at would be Tommy Thomas: (731) 364-5513
And here’s how to holler at the Division of Charitable Donations: (615) 741-2555 & firstname.lastname@example.org