In what appears to be a serious gaffe by Trump campaign officials, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee may have been promoting an illegal lottery for up to ten months on donaldjtrump.com.
donaldjtrump.com: online gambling site?
A current, live page on President Donald Trump’s personal website, donaldjtrump.com, is offering readers the chance to win a breakfast with the President if they make a donation to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.
“You have the opportunity to be flown out to have breakfast with President Trump in New York City,” the site says. It then continues,”Contribute any amount to be automatically entered to win.”
Crucially, as of the publication of this article, there is no option listed or described anywhere on the webpage for entering the sweepstakes without making a donation.
The donaldjtrump.com offer appears to meet the standard definition of a lottery as defined by many state gambling agencies. The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission (KRGC), for example, defines a lottery as, “an activity that has the elements of consideration [i.e. payment], chance, and prize.”
As is standard in most states, Kansas law only authorizes specific forms of gambling to be played within its borders. The KRGC explains, “Lotteries conducted by the State of Kansas and by tribal gaming operators are legal. Licensed charitable raffles and bingo are legal as well. All other lotteries are illegal.”
As a political committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee is not a licensed charity.
It would appear the Trump sweepstakes, as currently offered online, fails to meet the standards of Kansas law.
Not only questionable in Kansas….
The Trump sweepstakes also appears to fail the very strict standards for gambling set out in Nebraska law.
And also those of New Mexico law.
And Texas law.
And almost certainly Utah law.
Even possibly New Jersey law.
And possibly many more.
Gambling regulations differ substantially from state to state, and getting a clear ruling from state officials about the legality of an out-of-state website is very difficult (we tried). But the general trend is that most states only allow specific, licensed forms of gambling (or no gambling at all).
What is more, News Growl could not find any instance of a state gambling law that allows online lotteries for political fundraising. Several states explicitly prohibit the practice. According to the New York Elections Commission, “Per a ruling by the NYS Gaming Commission, political committees are not allowed to conduct raffles.”
Even more problematically for the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, if the sweepstakes violates state gambling laws, it could also violate federal law by virtue of being conducted online.
According to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), unlawful Internet gambling is defined as “where such bet or wager is unlawful under any applicable Federal or State law in the State or Tribal lands in which the bet or wager is initiated, received, or otherwise made.”
And, just to top things off, donaldjtrump.com could also be facing commercial as well as legal jeopardy because of the offer.
The online donation platform used by the campaign, Revv, strictly prohibits gambling in its terms of service: “Users may use the Platform only for lawful purposes and in accordance with these Terms. Users shall not…Use the Platform or Services to engage in, advertise, or encourage gambling.”
As it currently stands, Revv appear to be well within their rights to suspend the Trump Make America Great Again Committee’s account without notice.
How donaldjtrump.com became an online gambling site
Nothing News Growl uncovered in the course of this investigation indicates that the possible violation of state and federal law by the Trump Campaign was intentional. In fact, it appears to be the result of an enormous, undetected blunder by a campaign official.
Up until at least November 2017, the same sweepstakes webpage contained language and a link that allowed players to enter the draw without payment. There was also more detail about the prize itself (flights, accommodation, and breakfast with the President on December 2nd with a retail value of $3,000) and entry dates (between November 8, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time and November 27, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time).
Unsurprisingly, the November sweepstakes offer received national media coverage.
But at an unidentified point after the contest ended, someone at the Trump Make America Great Again Committee made a fateful mistake. Instead of removing the entire page with the concluded sweepstakes offer, they only removed the paragraph containing the entry dates, the prize description, and the information about entering without payment.
Otherwise, the page was left in tact. And online. The language with the three elements that constitute a lottery (“You have the opportunity to be flown out to have breakfast with President Trump in New York City. Contribute any amount to be automatically entered to win.”) and the widget to take payment were left in place.
The offer to win a breakfast with President Trump has been left live, online, for anyone to see, ever since (potentially for close to ten months). News Growl has been unable to confirm if the Trump Make America Great Again Committee has received any donations as a result of this apparently unintentional sweepstakes offer, but it is certainly possible.
The current version of the offer it is not hard for anyone to find either. News Growl, for example, discovered the page accidentally in a Google Search result while researching a different story.
What the Trump MAGA Committee and the RNC say
According to the terms and conditions of the sweepstakes (both the November 2017 and September 2018 versions), money donated in response to the sweepstakes offer is split between the Trump campaign (75%) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) general fund (25%).
News Growl has tried calling both organizations for comment, but the Trump Make America Great Again Committee has no published phone number. The RNC website lists an invalid number (202-863-8500) as its only contact number. Both organizations have been invited to contribute to this story via email, but no reply has been received from either as of publication.
Don’t mess with Kansas
If the idea of a political campaign feeling the heat from an illegal lottery seems far fetched, think again. Several politicians have faced legal difficulties from similar problems.
Writing in Roll Call, attorney C. Davidson Woods explains the seriousness of the issue. Responding to a reader question about the use of raffles by politicians, Woods says, “Election campaigns, even ones for federal office, must be mindful of state laws, not just federal…The fact that a campaign fundraiser complies with federal law does not guarantee that it complies with state and local laws as well.”
As an example of a politician getting fundraising raffles wrong, Woods sites the story of former Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp. In 2014 Huelskamp offered his constituents a chance to win NCAA basketball tournament tickets if they made a $10 contribution to his campaign. One recipient complained to the local district attorney, and Huelskamp found himself in hot water.
Huelskamp quickly amended the contest to allow free entries, and offered to refund donations to anyone who donated before the rule change. This satisfied the district attorney, who also noted that the infraction was not likely intentional.
“Unless we have some reason to believe there was some actual intent to operate in violation of the law, we do not usually initiate a formal prosecution,” he said.
The good news for Trump supporters is, if they have violated state or federal law on donaldjtrump.com, it is almost certainly not intentional. And it would not be the first time politicians had accidentally promoted gambling online.
But if not intentional, it is a massive, highly embarrassing gaffe.