The attempted raffle of an early copy of Mass Effect 3 this week still bothers me, even though its owners apologized and pulled back the gimmick when they realized it would run afoul of anti-gambling laws. The raffle or its legality isn't what really troubles me, however.
Backing up a bit, this is what happened. Electronic Arts marketers tied a bunch of copies of the coveted game to weather balloons and sent them into very near space last week, encouraging fans to track the balloons via web and try to find the games where they landed. In Las Vegas, two friends, who are also filmmakers, ended up the lucky winners of a drawing for one of the copies after the balloon went off course and the web page displayed an incorrect flight path.
Even though they owned the thing outright, what Michael Davis and Miguel Droz then chose to do with their copy was basically inappropriate and then, it was discovered, also illegal. The two wanted to raise money for a computer so they could develop a game for the iOS platform. So they planned a raffle—$5 for a chance at winning the game in a drawing online. The money raised would buy this computer.
While it would have depended on trusting these two guys to run an honest drawing and not give the game to, say, a friend, who mails it back to them, that's not the big problem. Davis and Droz certainly seem like honest guys who don't want to rip anyone off and simply didn't know the law. When an attorney who writes about video games law spotted the problem and pointed out the potential for Davis and Droz to pay big fines or even do jail time, they ended the stunt and apologized.