Herman: Is the Abbott campaign running an illegal gambling operation?

A few of our sharper-eyed customers (our second-favorite kind, right after our paying customers) contacted me last week to ask if Gov. Greg Abbott is running an illegal gambling operation to help fund his re-election campaign.


The question is interesting because of three facts: Abbott already has more than $40 million in the bank, the Democrats seem to be having trouble coming up with a credible challenger, and governors probably shouldn’t run illegal gambling operations.

I mentioned last week that I’d received an email from the Abbott campaign trying to lure three bucks or more out of my pocket by offering a chance to win an Astros flag displayed at the Governor’s Mansion to celebrate the recent first World Series championship by a Texas team. Go, ’Stros.

“Win this Flag” said the photo showing the flag proudly displayed on a second floor railing on the mansion’s front side.

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Here’s the windup and the pitch from the Abbott campaign:

“Contribute $3 or more and you’ll automatically be entered to win the Houston Astros flag that flew outside the Governor’s Mansion! We’ll also send a certificate of authenticity — signed by Governor Abbott — so you can show your friends and family you own a piece of history.”

This caught my eye because I thought it was interesting, if perhaps a bit unseemly, seeing as how the flag’s political fundraising value seems to be inextricably linked to the fact that it hung on a state-owned building that probably shouldn’t be used for political purposes.

The Astros flag raffle also caught the eye of several readers who had questions about legality.

“Chapter 47 of the Texas Penal Code generally prohibits raffles, lotteries and other games of chance,” local lawyer Beverly Rabenberg said. “Such ventures fall into the ‘illegal’ category because the chance to win is coupled with the payment of a valuable consideration.”

Austin lawyer James Rader said the “campaign scheme appears to be an illegal lottery.”

“Perhaps more disturbing is that the Governor’s Mansion could be considered as a ‘gambling place’ under section 47.04 of the Penal Code,” Rader reported.

Hey, I figure we’re always taking a gamble when we put someone in the Gov’s Mansion.

Reader Mike Abild of San Marcos dittoed the question about the raffle: “As you suggested, it does seem a bit unseemly, but isn’t it also a bit illegal?”

Seems so. And it’s something I should have remembered from back when I wrote about gambling in Texas, which has very tight laws about who can run what kind of games of chance.

The Abbott campaign indeed seems to running a game of chance/lottery here. By law, private, noncharitable entities can’t run lotteries. There’s a recent update on this. Texas voters (or at least the 5.6 percent of them who voted on the issue in November) amended the Texas Constitution to allow professional sports teams’ charitable foundations to conduct raffles.

What constitutes a raffle or lottery? Three things: Chance, consideration and prize. Knock out any one of those, and you’ll probably be on the right side of the law. So let’s test Abbott’s flag raffle.

There’s a chance you can win if you send three dollars or more (that’s “consideration”), and the winner gets a prize. Bingo! The Abbott campaign is running an illegal lottery. Lock him up. Lock him up. Lock him up.

Or not.

READ: Herman: Dem gov candidate and Abbott consultant enjoy a Twitter chat

Abbott’s an attorney. In fact, he’s our former attorney general, and attorneys general generally are good attorneys, though sometimes they get indicted. And what do we know we always should look for when a lawyer’s involved? That’s correct: the fine print.

And, sure enough, at the bottom of the Abbott pitch, requiring a significant scroll down, there’s fine print, in little letters much littler than the big letters above that, paraphrasing here, say: “SEND MONEY! NOW!”

“No purchase or contribution is necessary to enter or win,” says the finely printed fine print. “For more information, contact info@gregabbott.com.”

So you don’t have to send money to enter the Astros flag raffle. Or maybe you do. I sent a Monday morning email to info@gregabbott.com to get more information about entering without making a purchase or contribution. I heard nothing back on Monday.

I sent another email to info@gregabbott.com with the same request on Tuesday morning. As of 6 p.m. I still had heard nothing in response. I plan to send an email every day until the Friday deadline. I’ll let you know what I hear.

Seems to me that the offer to allow entries without making a contribution only gets the campaign around the gambling laws if there actually is a way to enter without making a contribution. I clicked through the contest email and was dead-ended at a screen that told me the contribution “field is required.” So that went nowhere.

Here’s where you can help. If you have a moment, send an email to info@gregabbott.com and ask for info about entering without making a contribution. Let me know what you hear.

I think we’ll find out everything is legal with this deal and we’ll be told how to enter without making a contribution. I know we’d hate to find out our governor is involved in a gambling operation that doesn’t meet the letter of the law.

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