Covering their bets 

The Montana Meth Project recently pulled online ticket sales for its Jan. 16 fundraising raffle amid concerns of the game’s legality. Executive Director Peg Shea says she decided to stop selling tickets through the organization’s website after a conversation with the Department of Justice’s Gambling Control Division, which considers online raffle sales a violation of state law prohibiting Internet gaming.

According to Montana head gaming regulator Gene Huntington, the law has no exceptions.

“Our perspective is that we don’t think you can sell tickets over the Internet,” says Huntington. “We usually don’t get involved in raffles unless people have questions about what is legal, or if there’s a possibility of fraud.”

The drawing takes place in Missoula and offers ticket buyers—at $250 a pop—the chance to win exotic getaways like a weekend skiing with extreme sports filmmaker Warren Miller at the Yellowstone Club. Proceeds from the raffle support the public-private organization’s graphic advertising campaign aimed at scaring teens away from methamphetamine use.

Shea says the Montana Meth Project tried to follow the law when setting up the raffle, even verifying the residency of ticket buyers to make sure no non-Montanans took part in the game. As for the Internet gambling prohibition, “I think the code’s unclear,” she says.

The law in question forbids Internet gambling, which “by whatever name known, includes but is not limited to the conduct of any legal or illegal gambling enterprise through the use of communications technology.”

Helena blogger Don Pogreba first questioned the fundraiser’s legality on Dec. 23, drawing parallels to an election scheme by failed state superintendent candidate Elaine Sollie Herman to raffle her 1975 El Camino for campaign funding. Herman sold an unknown number of $30 tickets this summer before Huntington similarly informed her that state code forbids Internet raffles.

Enforcement of raffle games falls to the county where the drawing is held. Missoula County Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell says the Board of Commissioners never issued a raffle permit to the Montana Meth Project, as the requirement is waived for nonprofits. Regulators explain it’s fairly common for counties to outright ignore the function of regulating raffles.

Huntington says he would like to see the 2009 Montana Legislature better enable the state to enforce the existing law.
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