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Can you set up a local lottery?

Setting up a local lottery may seem like an appealing way to try and raise funds for a good cause or to bring together a small community. However, there are a number of legal and logistical factors to consider before attempting to organize a lottery of any kind. Lotteries are highly regulated at both the state and federal levels, so it’s important to understand the applicable laws and requirements in your specific location. This article provides an overview of key questions to ask and issues to research if you’re considering setting up a local lottery.

What are the lottery laws in your state?

Lottery laws vary widely from state to state, so the first step is to research the specific lottery statutes and regulations in your location. Some states prohibit all lotteries except those run by the state itself. Other states allow certain kinds of small-scale charitable or nonprofit lotteries under particular conditions. And a few states have relatively permissive laws that allow for-profit lotteries as well. So you’ll need to check your state’s current lottery laws to see if your proposed lottery would be legal or not.

If your state does allow some forms of local lottery, the law will likely impose strict rules on factors like:

– The charitable purpose and nonprofit status of the sponsoring organization

– The maximum value of prizes awarded

– The maximum percentage of proceeds that can go toward expenses vs. the nonprofit purpose

– Record-keeping and reporting requirements

– Licensing or bonding requirements

Violating any of these rules could potentially result in huge fines or even criminal penalties. So it’s not enough to just generally understand whether local lotteries are allowed – you need to know the specific limitations and requirements spelled out in the law.

What federal laws apply to lotteries?

Even if a lottery is permissible under your state’s law, applicable federal laws also need to be taken into account. The Federal Communications Act prohibits the broadcast of any advertisement or information concerning a lottery. The Federal Trade Commission also has rules about proper disclosure and prohibitions on false or deceptive advertising of lotteries. And federal tax laws require that certain records be kept and taxes paid on lottery proceeds. So the lottery must be structured to comply with all relevant federal regulations too.

What type of lottery are you thinking of hosting?

If your location does allow local lotteries under some circumstances, the next key question is what specific type of lottery you want to operate. Some of the possibilities include:

– Raffle – Participants buy tickets for a chance to win a prize, with the winner drawn at random.

– Duck race – People “adopt” numbered plastic ducks that are dumped into a body of water. The first to float across the finish line wins.

– Fifty-fifty – Ticket sales revenue is split between prizes and charity.

– Lotto – Players pick their own numbers to match against randomly drawn numbers to win a jackpot.

Each type of lottery has its own pros and cons. Raffles and fifty-fifty drawings tend to be simpler to set up and administer. But games like lotto may have greater revenue potential if large jackpots can be offered. The lottery laws in your state may also restrict certain formats, so you’ll need to choose a type that’s both permissible and practical for your situation.

Who will operate and oversee the lottery?

Only nonprofit organizations are legally allowed to conduct lotteries in most states. So if you want to set up a lottery for charitable purposes, you’ll need to partner with an appropriate nonprofit willing to attach their name to the lottery and act as the official sponsor. Even if it’s legally structured as the nonprofit’s lottery, your own group can still provide most of the planning and manpower needed to run it successfully. Just be sure to have a clear written agreement in place about allocation of expenses and lottery proceeds.

The nonprofit overseeing the lottery should also set up a committee to organize and direct the lottery program. Having a strong oversight team will help ensure all rules and reporting requirements are followed. They can also establish internal controls to keep the lottery games fair and prevent financial improprieties.

Where will your lottery be located and promoted?

To have the best chance of raising sufficient funds, your lottery needs to be conveniently located and promoted in areas where it’s legal to play. So you’ll want to research state laws carefully before deciding where to base the lottery. Be sure to check statutes covering not just where the lottery itself occurs, but also where promotions and ticket sales can take place. It’s sometimes illegal to advertise in a particular location even if the lottery drawing itself is held elsewhere.

You should also check relevant local municipal laws, as some cities and counties prohibit lotteries or certain promotional activities even if they are okay under state law. Carefully picking legal, high-traffic locations to host and market your lottery can increase participation significantly.

What lottery equipment and supplies will you need?

Running a smooth lottery requires having the proper equipment and supplies on hand. Here are some key items you may need to obtain, depending on your specific type of lottery:

– Tickets – Numbered paper tickets or raffle stubs to sell to participants.

– Drawing equipment – Barrels, prize wheels, numbered balls etc. for conducting random drawings.

– Accounting supplies – Ledgers, receipt books, bank bags for tracking sales and expenses.

– Point of sale stations – Tables, cash boxes, signage to facilitate ticket purchases.

– Security items – Cameras, tamper-proof bins for securing ticket sales proceeds.

– Promotional materials – Posters, flyers, social media graphics to advertise lottery.

– Prizes – Whatever prizes your lottery will be awarding to winners.

Take time to carefully plan what physical items your lottery will require, and budget for any significant costs. Having the right supplies can lend your lottery a very professional look and feel.

Will you offer online or mobile lottery ticket sales?

While in-person transactions may be simpler, offering online or mobile app ticket sales can significantly expand who’s able to participate in your lottery. However, there are complex legal requirements surrounding online lottery sales. You’ll need to thoroughly research federal and state gambling statutes, tax laws, and banking regulations to ensure remote sales adhere to all applicable rules.

Using a qualified technical vendor can help properly set up remote lottery ticket sales while remaining compliant. But this adds extra cost and administration needs. Weigh the potential benefits against added legal and logistical complexity to decide if online or mobile ticketing are worthwhile for your situation.

How much should lottery tickets cost?

Pricing lottery tickets affordably can encourage higher volume sales. But you’ll need to charge enough per ticket to sufficiently fund prizes and other expenses. Some common lottery ticket price points to consider include:

– $1-2 for simple raffle tickets.

– $5 for more elaborate lottery games.

– $10-20 for games with very valuable prizes.

– Tiered pricing for bundles of multiple tickets.

Take into account factors like your target demographics, cost of prizes and operations, and pricing of other lotteries in your area. You want to settle on a ticket price that maximizes returns while keeping participation rates high.

What percentage of revenue will go to prizes vs. expenses vs. charity?

Lottery laws often dictate the minimum percentage of proceeds that must go to the sponsoring charity or cause. After allocating those required funds, you’ll need to carefully budget how to divide the remainder between prize payouts, overhead costs, and your fundraising goal.

Some general benchmarks to consider are:

– At least 50% toward prizes to attract players.

– Up to 15% for expenses like equipment, marketing, administration.

– Remainder goes to the nonprofit beneficiary.

The exact percentages will depend on your unique situations. Just be sure to follow any mandatory state allocation rules, while still leaving enough incentive for participation through strong prizes.

Will your lottery offer cash prizes or non-cash prizes?

Most lotteries award cash as all or part of the prize payouts. But you may want to consider supplementing cash with tangible items like cars, vacations, electronics etc. This adds an extra dimension of interest for players. However, proper security procedures must be in place if significant non-cash prizes will be awarded and stored. You’ll also need to be sure any physical prizes align with your state’s lottery regulations.

Offering both cash jackpots and unique tangible prizes provides strong general appeal. Just balance this with the added logistics of securing and awarding non-cash winnings.

How will you select and verify winners?

To keep your lottery reputable and avoid accusations of impropriety, it’s critical to have transparent, fraud-proof winner selection procedures. Some options include:

– Drawings monitored by lawyer or officials.

– Random number generators.

– Bingo ball or lottery wheel machines.

– Third party drawing services.

The process should be clearly visible to public observers and impossible for internal actors to manipulate or rig. Rules for winner verification and prize claiming should also be established and publicized ahead of time. Taking these steps is essential to maintaining integrity and public trust in your lottery.

What financial reporting and records will you maintain?

Proper financial management and recordkeeping are key legal requirements for local lotteries. You’ll likely need to track details like:

– Gross receipts from ticket sales.

– Expenses for equipment, marketing, administration.

– Prize disbursements.

– Net proceeds transferred to the nonprofit.

– Winners’ identifying information for tax purposes.

– Periodic reporting to state lottery oversight agency.

– IRS reporting of certain winner and revenue data.

Consult state and federal lottery regulators about precisely which financial records, statements, and taxes are mandated. Then be diligent in accurately tracking all necessary data to avoid any question about how lottery funds are being managed.

How will you market and promote your lottery?

Marketing is essential for attracting enough ticket buyers to support the charity’s fundraising goals. Some options to promote your lottery may include:

– Social media campaigns.

– Email/text outreach to existing supporters.

– Advertising in print, radio, billboard, or cable.

– Cross-promotions with local businesses.

– Point-of-sale flyers where tickets are sold.

– News coverage in community publications.

Be sure to have a solid marketing plan and budget to strategically promote lottery awareness. Remember to follow all state and federal regulations regarding how, where, and to whom lottery promotions can be directed.

Will you partner with local businesses or vendors?

Strategic community partnerships can provide beneficial opportunities like:

– Locations to sell tickets or post promotional materials.

– Prizes, discounts, or services donated by vendors.

– Corporate sponsorships.

– Volunteer support from local groups.

– Introductions to potential lottery players.

Look for ways to collaborate that add value for your lottery as well as the partner business. Just be sure to structure arrangements clearly and in compliance with state charity gaming rules.

How can you make the lottery engaging for participants?

Beyond just raising funds, a thoughtfully planned lottery can also help foster a sense of community and excitement. Some ways to make your lottery more engaging include:

– Offering creative prize options beyond just cash jackpots.

– Incorporating interesting themes into marketing materials.

– Hosting lively ticket sale events instead of just online sales.

– Allowing players to pick their own numbers for custom plays.

– Adding entertaining auditions, contests or ceremonies into the lottery draw event itself.

– Announcing winners across multiple days to sustain interest.

– Sharing stories and photos of winners receiving their prizes.

Look for ways to give your lottery a unique local flavor and interest beyond simply the chance to win money. This can encourage more active engagement and repeat participation.

Requirements and Permits

Organizing and operating a lawful lottery requires more than just following state gambling statutes. You’ll also need to comply with various general business, tax, and nonprofit laws. Some key requirements may include:

Business registrations

The nonprofit sponsoring the lottery may need to register as a business in your state and locality to legally conduct operations like ticket sales. Staff or volunteers selling tickets may also require seller’s permits or occupational licenses.

Sales tax collection

In most places, lottery ticket sales are subject to sales tax just like other transactions. So the nonprofit will need to register to collect and remit sales tax to the state.

IRS nonprofit tax status

The sponsoring charity should confirm it has a valid 501(c) tax exemption from the IRS before undertaking significant business activities like a lottery.

State and federal income taxes

While the nonprofit itself won’t owe income tax, staff may need to report lottery-related compensation as taxable income. Winners also face tax requirements on prizes over a certain threshold.

State gambling license

Even if allowed, many states require specific lottery operator licenses approved by the state gambling commission or lottery agency. This involves an application process, fees, ongoing reporting, and sometimes background checks or bonds.

Local municipal permits

Cities, towns or counties may require additional permits or approvals unrelated to state lottery licensing. Common examples include permits for raffles, public events, sales stands, advertising signs, and business use of property.

Always thoroughly research what registrations, tax rules, and permits apply to lotteries in your specific area. Trying to operate an unauthorized or improper lottery can lead to large fines or criminal prosecution.

Alternatives to Consider

Despite best intentions, setting up a lawful lottery can be practically difficult and financially risky for many community groups. As an alternative, consider some other fundraising options with fewer hurdles:

Legal raffles

If allowed, small registered raffles are simpler than full lotteries. You may be able to hold raffles, duck races or 50-50 drawings under your state’s charitable gaming laws instead.

Donation drives

ask supporters to directly contribute funds or needed items. This avoids lottery complexity.

Fee-based activities

Host paid events like dinners, concerts, races, tournaments, auctions etc. to raise funds.


Seek local business sponsors to underwrite fundraising costs.


Apply for grant funding from government agencies, foundations and corporations.


Leverage crowdfunding platforms to raise smaller donations from a wider audience.

With creativity and commitment, alternatives to a full-scale lottery can often raise substantial community funding while navigating fewer legal hurdles.

Key Takeaways

– Research state and federal lottery laws thoroughly before attempting to set up a local lottery. Regulations are extensive and violations carry stiff penalties.

– Partner with a qualified nonprofit organization willing to formally oversee the lottery. Have strong financial controls and transparency in place.

– Understand and obtain all required registrations, licenses, permits and exemptions from state, federal and local authorities.

– Carefully plan all logistics from ticket sales to winner selection to required reporting and recordkeeping.

– Market lawfully and effectively to attract broad community participation and raise funds.

– Consider less complex alternatives like raffles, donation drives or sponsorships if a full lottery seems overly daunting.


Organizing a lawful, successful local lottery takes extensive upfront research, planning and preparation. While permitted in some areas, lotteries are heavily regulated and conducting one improperly can lead to serious consequences. Smaller nonprofits should carefully weigh risks, requirements, and alternatives before pursuing a lottery fundraiser. But with sufficient understanding of applicable laws and diligent administration, certain community lotteries can be an engaging way to generate funding if allowed in your specific location. Just be sure to consult with legal counsel and state regulators before committing to set up any kind of lottery.