By Tony Leys
Des Moines Register
The University of Iowa has suspended a promotion in which it promised to raffle off free tuition to five students who bought season tickets to Hawkeye football games.
The decision, announced Wednesday evening, came after The Des Moines Register raised questions about the promotion’s legality.
“I have suspended the promotion temporarily as we determine how to make sure that this promotion is in complete compliance,” UI Athletic Director Gary Barta said in a prepared statement. “In the end, our goal is to do everything possible to make sure that the student experience at Hawkeye football games is as fun and exciting as possible.”
The UI had said Tuesday that it would give away a year’s free tuition to five students picked from those who bought season tickets, which run up to $175 per year.
The Register on Wednesday asked state gambling regulators about the contest; regulators said they had doubts about its legality.
The university had said the top five prizes would each be worth about $8,000. Other prizes were to include $500 worth of textbooks and $1,000 Hy-Vee gift cards.
David Werning, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, said Wednesday that the promotion raised “a lot of issues.” Werning said the university has a license to hold gambling contests as a “social and charitable” organization. However, it must abide by laws regulating raffles, he said.
For one thing, state law says charitable raffle tickets may only be bought with cash, Werning said. They may not be purchased with credit cards.
The UI contest announcement encouraged students to buy their season tickets online. Werning said his agency would ask the university how that squared with the cash-only rule for raffles.
State law also says that all tickets for a charitable raffle must be the same price. The Hawkeye contest appeared to give students an option of spending $150 or $175, depending on whether they wanted six or seven games to be included in their package, Werning said.
He said his agency encourages organizations to review rules with regulators before announcing raffles.
A private business would face stricter rules, Werning said. For one thing, a business would have to give people a way to participate in a giveaway without buying anything. Also, a business would have to publicly post the odds of winning, he said.
A prominent Iowa gambling critic panned the UI’s tuition raffle. Tom Coates said he saw it as yet another example of an arm of government encouraging the public to gamble.
“It is sad to see a prominent Iowa university stooping to such tactics just to fill stadium seats,” Coates said before Barta announced the contest’s suspension.
Coates said the promotion was similar to a lottery. While not as addictive as casino gambling, he said, lotteries tend to draw money from people who can least afford it. In this case, it was seeking money from college students, many of whom already are running up huge debts, he said.
Iowa State University’s website indicates it ran a “sweepstakes” in 2013 to encourage football fans to renew season tickets. Prizes included an expenses-paid trip for two to an away football game. However, the website said purchases were not necessary to enter that contest.
People could participate simply by sending a postcard with their contact information to the ISU athletics marketing department.
Werning said the fact that people didn’t have to buy anything to enter means that the contest was not legally a “raffle.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football