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Special Olympics insists no bait-and-switch in $5 million dream house raffle

Special Olympics Washington is defending itself for failing to mention a $5 million mansion on Lake Sammamish offered in a raffle will only be given away if 75,000 tickets are sold.(Special Olympics)
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Special Olympics Washington insists it wasn't trying to pull a fast one with its new raffle that offers a $5 million mansion as the grand prize, but only if it sells 75,000 tickets.

Questions are being raised about the Dream House Raffle launched last month after the The Seattle Times reported on the restrictions in the fundraiser.

There's no mention of the 75,000 ticket requirement in any of the advertising about the raffle for the Lake Sammamish mansion, which spans over 10,000 square feet with five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a 7,500 bottle wine cellar, a home theater and guest cottage.

Special Olympics Washington spokesman Dan Wartelle says it's the first time the organization has undertaken such a large fundraiser and he admits they didn't do a good job of specifying the rules.

The 75,000 ticket requirement is not mentioned anywhere in an eight-page brochure for the raffle or other advertising for the raffle, which includes the house or a $4 million annuity along with 1,700 prizes, including several new cars, vacations, consumer electronics and more. Tickets for the raffle are going for $150 each, $400 for three tickets and $550 for five tickets.

"We assumed that having the rules and that information on the website only and not on the marketing materials would be enough, but The Seattle Times brings up a good point."

Wartelle says Special Olympics will be including the 75,000 ticket requirement in its future advertising.

"If we did not get that number out there clear enough, we apologize. We want to be up front."

Special Olympics has hired a San Francisco-based consultant to run the raffle. Neal Zeavy tells The Seattle Times there was no intention to deceive ticket buyers.

But the raffle and others like it have raised concerns with the Better Business Bureau, both in Washington and elsewhere. The BBB in St. Louis issued a warning about a similar raffle.

David Quinlan, a spokesman for the BBB in Seattle, says while there are no questions about Special Olympics as a charity, the raffle raises plenty of red flags.

"The concern is whether or not the contest and the organizers are being transparent," says Quinlan. "At first glance, people might think 'oh my god this is a wonderful opportunity.' It's hard to find the rules and that's the gray area and that's a concern for us."

While Wartelle insists Special Olympics Washington is optimistic it can sell 75,000 tickets, history is not on their side. Special Olympics Southern California has failed to generate enough sales to meet the threshold and auction a house in four tries.

Wartelle says he hopes the controversy doesn't hamper ticket sales, which are aimed at raising several million dollars to support the organization's work. And he points out every other prize will be given away, and one winner will receive $1.2 million if 50,000 tickets are sold.

"Why not us? We're a different market than Southern California. But ultimately we want to raise as much money as possible for Special Olympics Washington," he says.

The grand prize drawing will take place May 31.

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