APP article on Monmouth parents of child w Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Smith trying to assist'Manalapan charity wants to raffle car online; state says no'
By Jerry Carino, Asbury Park Press staff, USA TODAY NETWORK –
“We thought we could raise $100,000,” Jim Raffone said. “We raised approximately $25,000 before we had to stop.”
Then the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal informed them they were in violation of the law.
“Under existing New Jersey law remote and online raffles are not permitted,” said Gema de las Heras, the Attorney General’s office spokeswoman, in an email. "Our Division of Consumer Affairs has discussed several options with the family’s representatives and stands ready to assist them and other nonprofits who seek to hold raffles find a path forward working within the existing law."
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The Raffones, who live in Manalapan, were conducting the raffle online because of the gathering restrictions imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has grinded fundraising events to a halt for nonprofits across the state, threatening their survival in many cases.
“Every charity in New Jersey is not allowed to do what I’m fighting for,” Raffone said. “We can’t even have an event inside. It’s very, very difficult. We’re looking to host a clinical trial by January and it’s going to cost us $2 million. How do I get this $2 million?”
The Raffones’ nonprofit, JAR of Hope, was founded in 2013 after their son James was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative condition that eventually results in total muscle failure. Patients seldom live past their 20s. “Jamesy” is now 11 years old and still walking.
“We’re keeping the disease at bay as much as possible,” Jim Raffone said, “but it’s still doing what it wants to do.”
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Through the years JAR of Hope has aggressively fundraised for Duchenne research. Jim Raffone has run ultramarathons, rung the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange, organized a world record-breaking Lego chain, and enlisted the public support of pro football players. Last month he raised $165,000 by walking 260 miles from Washington, D.C. to Old Bridge.
Among those who greeted him at the finish line was his congressman, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith.
“We’ve been working with him since 2014,” Smith said via phone. “He and his wife are such wonderful people.”
“This should be right up his alley,” Smith said of Murphy. “During this crisis just about everything else that can be waived is waived, so why not just do it with an executive order? It’ll help other very important charities, too.”
Acknowledging the general concern about online raffles — the drawing should be witnessed, to ensure its fairness — Smith said safeguards can be be put into place so “charlatans don’t get involved.”
De las Heras, of the attorney general’s office, mentioned one possibility in her email to the Press.
“The Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission (LGCCC) within the Division of Consumer Affairs understands that the public health emergency has affected nonprofit organizations and their ability to fundraise during the pandemic,” she wrote. “The LGCCC has been assisting nonprofit organizations identify alternatives to in-person events, such as live streaming video of the raffle drawings.”
A live-streamed drawing would solve half the problem. The other half, the prohibition of online raffle ticket sales, continues to be an issue. It's hard to collect raffle tickets when gatherings are not allowed.
On Wednesday Murphy signaled a willingness to bend on the issue, signing a bill expanding charities’ ability to sell raffle tickets online based around sporting events —raffles that otherwise would have occurred in stadiums and arenas.
That does not help JAR of Hope, though, since no sporting event or stadium was involved. So at the moment Raffone has a Mustang valued at $46,000 and a stalled raffle.
“Here in New Jersey, on any given day, millions of dollars can be bet online on professional football, horse racing, tennis, golf, college football, basketball, baseball and all other sports,” Raffone’s attorney James Aaron wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “Even playing poker and other games of chance can be bet on with a simple turning on of the computer, yet a charity of this nature trying to save the life of a child and other children similarly situated, cannot take advantage of the internet and an online raffle.”
Eligible organizations are encouraged to direct related questions to AskConsumerAffairs@ dca.lps.state.nj.us. or call (973) 273-8000.
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues.