March 11, 2011

Parishes and schools are hopeful charitable gaming proposal becomes law

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

As planning gets under way for parish and school fundraising events, some organizations are dealing with a challenge from a law passed in 2009.

That change and new rules from the Indiana Gaming Commission have made running charitable events cumbersome and, in some cases, are causing a significant reduction in fundraising.

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), the author of Senate Bill 340, is working to change those rules. The charitable gaming bill legislation, which passed the Senate on Feb. 22 by a 47-2 vote, would make changes to the charitable gaming law to 1) allow raffle tickets to be purchased with a credit card; 2) ensure that licensing fees for charitable events are based on charity gaming proceeds only; and 3) allow money raised in gaming events to be used to pay salaries of full-time staff members.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference is supporting the bill, and will be following its progress throughout the legislative process,” said Glenn Tebbe, the ICC executive director.

Kruse said that there are about 20 charitable organizations in his area that have raised concerns with current gaming laws.

“I identified four that I could handle myself this year through legislation,” he said. “I am an anti-legalized gambling person, but we do have legalized gaming in Indiana. I think if we are going to have gaming in Indiana, it might as well be just and fair for those who are participating in it.

“One area where I felt an injustice was occurring was when an organization has an event with five different fundraising events going on at the same time—but only one of those was a gaming event—[and] the gaming commission was charging a percentage fee on all those events,” Kruse said. “I felt the percentage fee should only be charged on the gaming event, not the other activities … .”

Kruse said that the bill also allows full-time employees of legitimate non-profit organizations to use money raised through gaming proceeds to pay salaries.

“Current law prohibits salaries to be paid from gaming proceeds,” the senator said. “But for some charities, their annual fundraiser raises up to 90 percent of the group’s budget.” The provision would allow staff to be paid from the group’s budget even if some of the money was attained through gaming.”

Kris Markham, the special events coordinator at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, began experiencing firsthand the problems that the changes in the law created, and brought her concerns to Kruse and others.

“We host four major events throughout the year. Our Saints Alive Dinner and Auction is a huge fundraiser for our school,” she said. “We have a silent auction booth, a live auction, a bishop’s scholarship event. We sell raffle tickets, and have a $300 per couple dinner.”

Markham said that last year the gaming commission told her that the school’s licensing fee would be based on its entire proceeds for the evening, not just the charitable gaming or game of chance portion of the event.

“We were also told people could not buy raffle tickets with credit cards,” she said.

“We are in our 32nd year for this event. For the past 31 years, people have been able to purchase raffle tickets using credit cards.”

This year, people were not allowed to use their credit cards to buy raffle tickets, Markham said. “It has hurt us immensely. Our sales are down a good 50 percent. We sell anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 in raffle tickets.

“Currently, the law is crippling our fundraising efforts. If Senate Bill 340 passes, it will effectively untie our hands. It will help us to fulfill our mission of educating children,” she said. “Through our fundraising efforts, we are able to offer scholarships and can help so many children who could not otherwise afford a Catholic education.”

Harry Verhiley, the development director for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said, “After talking to Kris Markham, I realized that our 80 parishes, 40 schools and four high schools would be affected in some way by this if they were going to do any kind of gaming event.

“The law was changed with good intent in 2009, but we have some very legitimate non-profits that rely on gaming events to support their mission,” Verhiley said.

Kruse said he was “very encouraged” that the bill passed the Senate almost unanimously. He said that if the Democrat House lawmakers come back to work, “I think we have an excellent chance of this passing this year.”

Senate Bill 340 is awaiting a hearing in the House.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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