Champagne bottles in an ice bucket

Liquor, Cannabis, and Gambling… and Your Fundraising Event

By Nancy Bacon, Associate Director for Washington Nonprofits

Your fundraising committee is sitting around a board member’s living room drinking red wine and brainstorming all of the ways to make money at your upcoming event. You’ll get wine donated by winery, and why not raffle a nice bottle of tequila someone brought back from Cabo. You’ll get local businesses to contribute to your silent auction, including that pot shop down the street with the green Swiss flag sign. You’ll raffle off gift cards, using your email list to recruit buyers. So many great ideas!


There are a lot of rules when it comes to liquor, cannabis, and gambling, and it is important that you review the rules at the start of your event planning.

Let’s take the scenario above:

Where you can get wine donated: We are going to assume that this is a public event, meaning that you will be marketing it on your website and it is not by invitation only. That means you are getting a Special Occasions License. You can get donated wine from a winery (or from a member). You may not get wine donated by a retail wine shop.

Raffling alcohol: No. Alcohol may not be raffled at a public event.

Cannabis and events. No, not allowed. Cannabis is complicated, and the bottom line for nonprofits is that it cannot be used in fundraising.

Raffles and the internet: You may not sell raffle tickets over the internet or by email.

So much bad news. The good news is that there is a resource available to you to help you know the rules and walk through the steps of event planning that relate to alcohol, cannabis and gambling. Washington Nonprofits published “Liquor, Cannabis, Gambling… and Your Fundraising Event” in 2018 to demystify the why, what, where, and how of “vices” and nonprofit fundraising. The toolkit walks you through these questions:

On alcohol:

  • What type of event is it?
  • Whose license covers your public event?
  • Where does the alcohol come from?
  • Who services the alcohol?
  • When does alcohol appear at your event?
  • How do you account for and communicate about the alcohol?

And then:

  • How do you stay legal with cannabis?
  • How do you stay legal with gambling?

There is a short 10-minute video that explains it all. Watch the video while following along with the toolkit. For more, watch the archived webinar Washington Nonprofits did with Beth Lehman from the Washington State Liquor Cannabis Board. Everything is available here:

In the toolkit, you will learn about some areas of common confusion:

Banquet Permit or Special Occasion License? The first question before you is whether your event is public or private. The Special Occasion License was created to help nonprofits with public events involving alcohol. It gives you a way to legal receive donated alcohol.

Wine wall, wine pull, etc. Legal or not? Probably not. An important rule is no free or discounted alcohol. You must account for alcohol at its real or market rate. When you amass a collection of wine with values ranging from, say $5 to $100, and then you charge a fixed rate for a ticket—say $20—you would be give away alcohol if someone gets a bottle worth more than $20.

Why are we closing the bar during the live auction? Important rule: you may not stack licenses. Only one license may be in operation at any one time. Your live auction would be covered by a Special Occasion License; your venue’s license may cover the service of wine by the glass. Doing both of these activities at the same time would result in two licenses being used concurrently, so service must stop.

What is a member? The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board does not have a definition of member. It is up to your bylaws whether or not you have members. This matters because members are allowed to donate wine under a Special Occasion License. Community members (say the local Rotary) are not.  

Since many fundraising events are organized by committees, we encourage you to have several people learn what you need to know for your event. You might hold a 30 minute discussion about the toolkit and what it means for your event. A planning guide is included to make your conversation easier. If you have any questions, please contact the Washington Nonprofits learning team at

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