Minneapolis — 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."
Fans at Target Field in Minneapolis had the opportunity to play on Opening Day in April, then not again until Monday night. Now, the raffle will occur during each home game throughout the season, said Stephanie Johnson, (no relation to Margaret Johnson), who manages the Twins Community Fund.
Before the first pitch and during the game, fans at Twins games are able to buy raffle tickets at the Twins Community Fund kiosk on the concourse level of Target Field behind home plate. Once the game begins, raffle-ticket vendors such as Elena Katorosz, 20, roam the stadium's sections hawking raffle tickets much like other vendors sell hot dogs, peanuts or beer.
Clad in black pants and a bright red short-sleeved shirt with "Twins" inscribed in white letters, Katorosz sold ticket packages of $2 for one ticket, $5 for three tickets, $10 for 10 tickets and $20 for 40 tickets. Minnesota law caps take-home winnings at $10,000, said Steve Pedersen, licensing supervisor for the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. Other states, such as Wisconsin, have no such limits.
Working high above the field on the third base side, the University of Minnesota senior used a hand-held computer to print out the tickets for each customer. The electronic system keeps a real-time tally of the pot's total — an additional selling point to potential customers, Stephanie Johnson said.
Keith Chapman, 62, an Apple Valley resident who works as a shuttle driver at a local Honda dealership bought three tickets for $5 from Katorosz.
"It goes to a good cause," Chapman said, adding that he's contributed to the Twins Community Fund before, but never in this manner.
By late summer, the Twins Split the Pot Raffle will be run by the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg, Florida. The museum's director, David McCarthy, has helped implement the 50/50 raffle's electronic system in other pro sports stadiums, Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said.
"They've been a good partner of ours over time," Smith said. "It's their business. They know what they're doing. We wanted to work with them to make sure we knew what we were doing before we went big-time."
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