NYS Exposed: Gov. Cuomo says vetoed charity raffle bill was 'unconstitutional'

December 19, 2017 11:18 AM

It's been a one-two punch for a lot of local non-profits and charities including the volunteer fire department in Stafford, Genesee County. Last spring, the state said their main fundraiser -- a raffle of a vintage Corvette -- was illegal.

Last week, the governor vetoed a new law that would have allowed it. And all this is costing the small fire department thousands of dollars that the taxpayer will have to cover.


Since World War II, the Stafford Fire Department raffled off used cars to make money. That money bought trucks, built the fire house, bought land for soccer fields and saved the town post office. And they've been selling tickets online for a decade.

But when the state got tipped off that people were buying tickets online with credit and debits cards, the state shut Stafford fire down. Illegal, the state said, so Stafford fire sent all the money back. Stanley Gere is a fire department trustee. 

"It's like a second sucker punch right in the gut," says Stanely Gere, Stafford Fire Department trustee.

Every year since he can remember, the fire department raffled a vintage Corvette to raise money. But when someone complained to the state about how the fire department was selling tickets, the state shut them down.

"It was a real hardship for this fire department," Gere says. "We had to send all that money and time and effort and send all that money to the people who sent in for that raffle."

In June, the state legislature passed the Charitable Gaming Act, so Stafford fire and every non-profit or charity that sold raffle tickets could keep doing it. The measure was approved with overwhelming support: 59 to 3 in the Senate; 136 to 8 in the Assembly.

But last week, Governor Cuomo vetoed that bill.

Berkeley Brean: "Can you explain why you vetoed that bill?"
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "Yeah, gambling is specifically addressed in the state constitution."

The governor said his lawyers said the new law violates the state constitution.

"Obviously, if we can help charities with raffles we will, but the legal opinion is it's unconstitutional the way it was written," said Gov. Cuomo. "So next year, we'll sit down to see if we can find a way to do it legally."

Brean: "Next year? There's some urgency here. That fire department in Stafford, they rely on that raffle. So doing something next year is not going to help them this year."
Gov. Cuomo: "Well, they can do the raffle. They wanted to do the raffle in a different way, that's what this law would allow."

Brean: "Do you think you could do something in the first couple of months that might let them do what they want to do by Father's Day when they normally have the raffle?"
Gov. Cuomo: "We could do it in a week; it's not the most complex topic."

In a memo attached to his veto, the governor said online raffles are illegal because people can buy tickets even if they live in a community in New York State that doesn't want gambling. But look at New York right now: We have 15 casinos and six under construction and the Stafford Fire Department says 95 percent of raffle tickets were bought by people outside New York. One solution? Pass the bill again in January and get the governor to sign it in time to have the raffle.

"And if he doesn't, it's shameful on his part because all it does is increase the taxes in this state," says Gere.

Gere told us, because they can't do the raffle, the projected fire tax increase is 300 percent.


Berkeley Brean

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