AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted unanimously Monday in favor of a bill that would remove a $1,000 cap on the amount of money nonprofit groups can offer as a cash prize in their fundraising raffles.

Representatives of multiple state and local organizations said a state law change made last year as part of Gov. Paul LePage’s state budget bill that capped cash prizes in raffles would hinder their ability to raise funds, and thus limit the number of people they can help in their communities.

Mike Michaud, exalted ruler of the Augusta Elks Lodge, told members of the state Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that the Elks raised $5.7 million for charities in Maine last year, including money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and programs supporting veterans, some of which was raised from raffles with cash prizes. He said the current law would hamper the ability of the Elks, and other organizations that help others in their communities, to raise funds.

“We’re asking the Legislature to untie our hands, to maximize our ability to give,” Michaud said at a public hearing on the bill Monday.

Committee members voted unanimously in favor of an “ought to pass” motion by Rep. Bradlee Farrin, R-Norridgewock, at a brief work session following the public hearing.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, sponsor of the emergency legislation to reverse the rule change made last year, said the law change was tucked into last year’s budget proposal on page 746 of a more than 900-page budget bill. Katz, a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee which reviewed the budget bill last year, said neither he nor many other legislators noticed the law change capping cash raffle prizes at $1,000 as the top prize.

The bill would allow nonprofit organizations registering with the state to have one raffle a year with total cash prizes up to $20,000 and a top prize of up to $10,000 cash.

Dan Doiron, a member of Le Club Calumet in Augusta involved in organizing the club’s popular Franco-American festival, Le Festival de la Bastille, which takes place every other year, said a raffle, with $20,000 in total prize money and a $10,000 cash prize, is part of the festival and helps raise funds that go into the club’s general fund.

Doiron said the club uses cash raffles as one of numerous types of fundraisers it uses to generate money to support others in the community. He said the club makes financial contributions to the Augusta Food Bank, Augusta Recreation, Capital Area Recreation Association, Free ME from Lung Cancer, Cony Project Graduation, Special Olympics and others. Also, through the Calumet Educational and Literary Foundation, the club has a scholarship fund that has grown to become a $2 million investment which generates proceeds for scholarships, including 82 scholarships last year, granting financial assistance to every applicant who sought it, totaling $106,000.

“If this bill is not passed, will it put the club out of business? Certainly not,” Doiron said. “Will it affect the number of organizations or individuals … we’re able to assist? Absolutely.”

The leaders of other local organizations that raise funds with such raffles said while they could give away prizes other than cash, or smaller cash prizes, those don’t seem to generate nearly as much interest from the raffle-ticket-buying public.

Harry Lanphear, president of the Board of Directors of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, said the Y annually splits the proceeds of a raffle it does in a partnership with the Friends of Lithgow Library, which has a $10,000 cash prize and generates $10,000 each for the library and the YMCA. The Y raises nearly $300,000 a year with all its fundraisers, to provide scholarships so children who wouldn’t be able to afford to join the Y can do so.

“This $10,000 is crucial to us, and the number one fundraiser for the library,” Lanphear said. “It allows us to let kids learn to swim for free, send kids to Y camp, and it allows kids to participate in Lithgow Library programming. It’s absolutely critical to be able to support at-risk youth and families in our community.”

Tom Warren, chief executive officer, said the YMCA uses its share of the raffle proceeds to fund its Strong Kids Campaign, which provides scholarships so children who wouldn’t be able to afford to join the Y can become members.

Katz said he was unaware of any of the so-called “super raffles” offering substantial cash prizes causing any problems in Maine.

No one spoke against the bill Monday.

The current law does allow charitable organizations that register with the state’s Gambling Control Unit to give away non-cash prizes up to a value of $75,000.

The bill was amended by the committee to include a provision allowing nonprofit groups to have raffles, without registering with the state Gambling Control Board, as long as the cash prize in raffles doesn’t exceed $1,000 for the top prize or $2,500 in cash prizes total.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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