The Greater Bluffton Republican Club, which last week announced it was giving away an AR-15 rifle for its spring fundraiser, now says the contest is on hold.
Club vice president Marcie Flynn says tickets are no longer being sold and that the gun giveaway has been "temporarily suspended" amid concerns that the raffle-style fundraiser violates state law.
"We have temporarily suspended selling tickets, and we are working with the (14th Circuit Solicitor's Office) to make sure we are compliant with South Carolina gambling laws," she said.
The club, which has about 50 members and is looking to grow, launched its fundraiser two weeks ago. It is seeking $10 "contributions" to the club in exchange for a chance to win the AR-15.
As of last week, about half of the maximum 500 entries had been sold.
There is just one problem: Raffles are illegal in South Carolina.
Mark Powell, spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General's Office, says raffles are treated as lotteries, which are barred by the state's constitution. The one exception is the state lottery.
Flynn says the club never explicitly called its fundraiser a raffle and that nobody had problems with it until The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette used that term in a May 10 article about the gun giveaway.
She considers the fundraiser to be more like a "door prize" than a raffle.
According to Powell, door-prize giveaways also are illegal in South Carolina.
A 1997 opinion issued by the state Attorney General's Office indicates that simply calling a raffle by another name does not make it legal.
"It does not appear that a raffle may be legitimized by merely referring to the consideration as a 'donation,'" according to the opinion, which added that the issue had not yet been settled by the S.C. Supreme Court.
Duffie Stone, solicitor for the 14th Circuit, said three factors determine whether a contest meets the state standard for a "lottery."
"If you have to give anything to get a ticket, if the winner is drawn by chance, and if there is a pay-out, regardless of whether it is a gun or anything else, it is considered a lottery in South Carolina," he explained Monday.
Stone, a Republican whose office prosecutes crimes in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties, said he has spoken with the Republican club and told it that raffles are not allowed.
Violations of the law are punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail, he said.
Flynn said Monday her group is willing to tweak its contest to abide by the state laws but gave no indication how that might be accomplished.
"If we need to make minor changes to be perfectly within South Carolina law, that's what we will do," she said.
Meanwhile, the state is apparently inching closer to allowing raffles, at least for certain groups.
Gov. Nikki Haley recently signed into law a bill that will ask voters on the November 2014 ballot to change the state constitution to allow nonprofit groups to legally hold raffles. The measure lays out how the state would regulate raffles, starting in 2015.