Politics & Policy

Rubber Duck Racing Turns Old Ladies Into Outlaws

Wisconsin bans popular form of church group fundraising

The seedy underbelly of illegal gambling doesn’t usually feature floating bath toys. Nor are the winnings often going to help local police and firefighter groups. But, in Wisconsin, events like the Ducktona-500 or Ken-Ducky Derby have caught the attention of state’s Department of Justice.

“The little old ladies who run them never thought they were doing something to break the law,” said Republican state representative André Jacque tells National Review.

The races are a common fundraising game across the country. The premise is simple: players buy raffle tickets that correspond with particular ducks, and the first one to cross the finish line wins. The proceeds go towards different community causes, ranging from the local Lion’s Club to school trips to churches. In many cases, the races are a major draw for local events. But last year, Wisconsin’s Department of Justice ordered the Village of Mishicot, which is in Jacque’s district, to put an end to its annual Mighty East Twin River Duck Race.

“Any event in which an individual purchases a numbered duck, which is then dropped into a body of water and floated to a finish line, and the owner of the ‘winning duck’ then receives a prize, constitutes a lottery, as defined by Wisconsin Statutes 945.01(5),” the department wrote in a letter, threatening crimes ranging from a misdemeanor to a Class A felony. Jacque later learned the Mishicot crackdown was not an isolated incident: organizers of duck-racing events in other places such as La Crosse and Pepin had also received cease-and-desist letters from state authorities. As a result, like in Pepin, non-profit organizations in these towns saw diminished participation and lost funds.

Jacque sent a letter to the Justice Department to encourage officials to stop pursuing the obviously good-natured events, but they said they would not reverse course. Consequently, Jacque introduced a bill that would legalize races, as has been done in neighboring Michigan and Minnesota. The vote is set for later today, and he expects the initiative to pass easily in the assembly as well as the senate.

“This is not pernicious activity,” he said. “These are good, clean community events.”

But a law to allow people to race rubber ducks for charitable causes without fear of retribution shouldn’t be necessary. “I have to wonder why they’re prioritizing this because there are other demands to use their time and resources on,” he said.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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