Police thwart raffle aimed at helping nonprofit

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff
Posted March 19, 2010, at 8:21 p.m.

ISLESBORO, Maine — Josh Conover thought he was being generous by auctioning off his old lobster boat and giving some of the proceeds to the Maine Lobster Institute for research, but Maine State Police notified the institute this week that his actions were against the law.

Conover now has to give back the money from the 35 tickets he sold for $150 each.

“They treat it like I was going to open high-stakes bingo or a racino or something,” Conover said Friday.

Conover worked with the nonprofit institute to raffle off his 1977 38-foot lobster boat by selling 350 tickets at $150 each. Conover would have split the earnings with the nonprofit, which would have left Conover with $33,000 and the Maine Lobster Institute with $12,000.

According to Maine law, only raffle license holders may hold raffles where the prizes are worth more than $10,000, and those license holders must be nonprofit organizations, according to Jim Gass, public safety inspector for the Maine State Police gaming unit.

Although some of the proceeds were going to the Maine Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, Gass said, the institute, not Conover, would have to run the raffle for it to be in compliance with law.

“[The law] is to protect everybody,” Gass said. “Josh is doing the raffle, but what is the purpose of the raffle? … The law is to protect so that only nonprofits can do raffles.”

Gass said he gets unlawful raffle cases about once a month.

Gass contacted the institute after he saw a news article last weekend detailing the raffle.

Conover said Friday he would try to give a donation to the institute instead.

“I’ll just sell the boat,” Conover said. “I’ll try to make a donation when I sell it, but I was getting above and beyond what the boat was worth, so I was going to let them have the extra money.”

Conover is unsure how much he will be able to donate to the nonprofit.

No criminal charges will be brought against Conover or the institute, according to Gass.

Cathy Billings, associate director of the Maine Lobster Institute, said she and her co-workers didn’t know any better.

“Ignorance is our only excuse, but it’s no excuse really,” Billings said.

This was to be the nonprofit’s first raffle.

“It was a definite learning experience,” Billings said. “It was nice of Josh to do this for us. He was just trying to do something nice, but we certainly understand and respect the regulations and we will know better next time.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/03/19/news/bangor/police-thwart-raffle-aimed-at-helping-nonprofit/ printed on July 29, 2014