Raffling Houses: Interesting idea . . . but no dice

James L. Goldsmith, Esquire

Facts: I saw a news story on television about a Maryland couple who raffled their home. The property had been listed with a REALTOR®, but conventional marketing had not produced a buyer willing to pay anything close to the sellers' lowest expectations. Reduced income, devaluation of the housing market and other financial woes all contributed to sellers' distress and need to sell for as much money as reasonably possible.

In a moment of exasperation, one of the sellers said the couple would do better selling raffle tickets and giving their home to the lucky winner. What began as joke became a strategy by which this home was sold. The couple assessed the interplay of ticket price, odds of winning and number of tickets to be sold. They then marketed the program, sold tickets, raffled the home and lived happily ever after. Not only that, they made the news!

Q. In Pennsylvania, is it lawful to sell raffle tickets and give real property to the winning ticket holder?

A. No. In Pennsylvania, selling a ticket or any writing or device that would entitle the holder to a prize to be drawn by chance constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree! Advertising the raffle alone constitutes a crime. Small games of chance for charitable purposes may be exempt provided an application for exemption is submitted and granted. Helping a couple to sell their home will, unfortunately, not qualify.

How is it that grocery stores, magazine publishers and others offer lotteries and games of chance like you see advertised on television so frequently? These familiar sweepstakes are different because there is no exchange of consideration. That is, to enter the sweepstakes you are not required to pay any sum, buy any product or exchange anything of value. Remember hearing the words "no purchase necessary"?

Interesting idea, but no dice.