CHURCH leaders are expressing strong disapproval and admonishment of their colleagues who host raffles to raise funds, arguing that it is a subtle form of gambling, and instead have suggested food sales, offerings, and concerts as better alternatives.
A check made with the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) by the Jamaica Observer revealed that churches have been seeking approval to stage raffles.
According to Section 47 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, all unauthorised lotteries are unlawful. Further, Section 49 of the Act states that the commission, in accordance with Part II of the Act, may grant a licence to any person to promote a lottery, and any such lottery which is promoted in accordance with the terms and conditions of the licence shall not be unlawful.
Section 51 allows religious organisations, among others, to organise a lottery for the promotion of the welfare of the community, with the prior approval of the minister of finance and the public service, with the payment of a bond equivalent to 15 per cent of the gross receipts to the accountant general.
But Reverend Ronald Grey, district superintendent for the Jamaica East District of Nazarene Churches, said it's nothing he supports.
"I am totally against it. The Church should not be engaged in such a sinful act. I am totally opposed to any game of chance — raffle, whatever the game is — as long as there is the intent of getting more than what you put in. The Bible tells you that you should not put your money to usury in that sense," Rev Grey said.
President of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Everett Brown said hosting raffles goes against the ethics of the Church.
"All forms of gambling are a no no; as a church we believe in the dignity of hard work and persons earning an income. We believe that raffles deny people of their incomes so we do not participate in betting and gaming and raffles and so on," explained Brown.
"Whether or not it is legal does not mean it is ethical, so we still do not participate in it. We believe in gifts, offerings, and persons giving their free-will offerings and contributions to carry on the church's mission — but we do not believe people should gamble in order to raise funds for the church," he said.
Archbishop of the West Indies and Bishop of Jamaica and The Cayman Islands Howard Gregory said he would not want to see the Church heading in that direction, and encouraged Christians to promote other creative ways of fund-raising.
"Though I know there is a difference among some religious organisations, there are lots of things the Church does to raise funds, such as cake sales and concerts, so people are actually getting something for their money — not somebody losing so that I can win," he pointed out.
"It doesn't foster an attitude in this country that we need people putting out their effort and getting a just reward for their efforts," he argued.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston Kenneth Richards shared a similar view.
"We don't promote it in the Catholic Church, it's just in solidarity in what was established by the Jamaica Council of Churches, I think back in the 80s, 90s, we abandoned having raffles in our church," he explained.
He told the Observer that while there is a negative connotation associated with the game of chance, churches host raffles for a valuable cause.
"For the Church, it would be a different context if they are going to do a raffle. In the Church it's usually a fund-raising venture so it falls in a different context. We are at a common place now in society where those persons might squander what is meant for survival and the family to bet on a game of chance and then lose what should take care of the family," said Richards.
Dr Elaine McCarthy, chair of the Jamaica Pentecostal Union (Apostolic), agreed.
"Some churches might do things like that [raffles] but it's not as if the union would go in and intervene. Generally, we try not to go that route if we are organising things ...we find other means of raising funds — have dinners or luncheons and sales of other things people would want to purchase," said McCarthy.
Meanwhile, in relation to unauthorised lotteries Vitus Evans, executive director at the BGLC, said: "On being aware of unauthorised lotteries, the Compliance Department of the BGLC will contact the offending entity to bring the breach to their attention, in writing, and what could possibly flow from that breach. The matter may be brought before the courts and, if warranted, the penalties would apply upon conviction.
"Section 53 (2) states that any organiser of such lottery (raffle) who fails to comply with the terms of Section 51 is liable for [a] fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding 12 months," he added.
The commission's executive director also said BGLC's Enforcement and Compliance teams have various mechanisms for identifying unauthorised gambling activities in Jamaica, including lotteries (raffles).
"In addition, the commission does receive enquiries from consumers seeking to determine the legitimacy of raffles and similar promotion offers which are advertised without the statutory endorsement indicating authorisation under the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act," said Evans.
"These enquiries will reveal instances of unauthorised raffles, in response to which we take the appropriate action," he said.