Making sure Vt. charities get their break-open ticket money

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Break-open tickets are an instant-lottery-style game popular at Vermont bars. You peel back tabs on the front of tickets to see if they match winning patterns on the back.

By law, the profits must go to nonprofit organizations but the state is worried not all the money is making it there.

Gambling is illegal in Vermont but break-open tickets, sold by nonprofit organizations or at for-profit establishments to benefit a charity are legal.

Vermont sells about 170 million tickets each year, that's more than the Vermont Lottery.

In the past, bars would partner with a charity and give them say $1,000 each month, but they were actually making $3,000 from the ticket sales. The remaining $2,000 would then be used at the bar's discretion.

Our Olivia Lyons talked to the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery to learn more about the changes in reporting proceeds and visited a bar where these popular tickets are sold.

Break-open tickets are very similar in size to a business card and just like many scratch-off tickets, it has different combinations of symbols you need to match in order to win money.

But when the state discovered some businesses selling the tickets were embezzling money from charities, they began requiring nonprofits to report their winnings hoping it will deter those who want to divert money.

"The goal of requiring this reporting is really to get the charities to be more aware of what is being sold in their name and what the proceeds that they should receive from those sales amount to," said Gary Kessler of the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery.

Wicked Wings in Essex goes through around 14,000 tickets a month. They raise money for Champlain Baseball, but Collin Sourdiff, the general manager says the bar and charity don't have a great relationship. Sourdiff has paperwork saying they sell tickets and the charity's representative comes by to collect the money, but he's not entirely sure what the charity even does.

"I started to get worried because I don't really have a lot of records of what I'm doing," Sourdiff said. "A year ago, we used to throw the tickets away that we didn't sell, so there was almost no accounting for it and now at least we give them the spent tickets and everything."

Sourdiff thinks the state needs to better educate the businesses to ensure they are selling tickets properly. For Wicked Wings, these sales really impact his bartenders' tips.

"I mean, if someone hits a $600 winner, they give you 50 to 100 bucks," Sourdiff said.

In the end, it is up to each charity to decide if they want to partner with a for-profit bar and some have decided against it.

"Either because they don't want to do the work or they're concerned that maybe this isn't really the kind of enterprise they want to be involved with, in general," Kessler said.

All reporting is done online. After each quarter the state will compare the number of tickets bought and money reported to make sure they match up. In a year, they will re-evaluate how this method is working to see if any changes should be made.

All reporting is done online. After each quarter, the state will compare the number of tickets bought and money reported to make sure they match up. In a year, they will re-evaluate how this method is working to see if any changes should be made.