Special Olympics wants to let you move across town

March 5, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Special Olympics Washington has been looking for ways to boost its revenue, and the organization that serves 10,000 intellectually disabled athletes may have found it in Sammamish.

In late January, Special Olympics Washington launched its first Dream House Raffle. The fundraiser’s grand prize is a waterfront home on Lake Sammamish, valued at $5 million. The winner could choose to keep the 10,200-square-foot house, or receive a cash payout of $4 million.

Anyone 18 and over may purchase single tickets for $150, three for $400 or five for $550 up until May 16, with the grand-prize drawing on May 31.

Dan Wartelle, Special Olympics Washington’s vice president of communications, said the raffle idea was hatched about two years ago when the group started looking at activities of other Special Olympics chapters around the country. Special Olympics Washington already puts on an annual auction, a fun run and a series of polar-bear plunges, among other events.

Officials found what they were looking for in southern California, where the Special Olympics chapter began doing house raffles in 2010. The raffles have been a financial success for that chapter, but they’ve yet to sell enough tickets in any single year to actually give away a house.

And that’s a source of controversy surrounding the Sammamish home, located on the 3100 block of East Lake Sammamish Shore Lane Southeast.

The rules for the raffle contains some important fine print – the house will not be an option for the grand-prize winner if fewer than 75,000 tickets are sold. In that case, the winner could choose between a maximum $4 million cash payout over 20 years, or an immediate lump-sum payment of up to $2.8 million.

The stipulation was listed in the rules section of the Dream House Raffle’s website, www.pugetsoundraffle.com, but not in an eight-page brochure that was being circulated at the home last week.

That prompted critical statements in a Feb. 19 article by The Seattle Times, including some from Better Business Bureau officials questioning the contest’s transparency.

Wartelle said Special Olympics Washington officials were hard at work that day to rectify the situation. The stipulation is now included on the bottom of every page on the raffle website, and future advertisements and materials about the raffle will feature the stipulation more prominently.

“It’s not something where we were trying to be deceptive,” Wartelle said.

CEO Beth Wojick said Special Olympics didn’t anticipate criticism of the raffle, but responded quickly in light of the situation to give people the information they wanted.

“When you’re in the weeds, you maybe don’t see things that people who are involved in (the raffle) see,” Wojick said.

The group is doing its best to reach the 75,000-ticket barrier, Wartelle added. Obviously, the more tickets that are sold, the more money Special Olympics Washington gets.

There are also three “early bird” drawings in which entrants can win other prizes, including electronics, vehicles and vacations to Paris, Hawaii and Bermuda, among other locations. There are no stipulations attached to those prizes in terms of total tickets sold.

For those who can afford it, the home on Lake Sammamish could be a selling point to enter the raffle. It has eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, an eight-seat theater, an outdoor fireplace and a 7,500-bottle wine cellar.

The price tag to maintain the home is steep. According to the city’s property tax calculator, it would cost more than $63,000 annually.

The odds of winning the home are also steep, but with Special Olympics Washington awarding more than 1,700 smaller prizes, the chance of winning something is about 2 percent.

SOWA holds yearly winter and summer Olympics at the state level. This year, they’ll be sending 50 athletes to the national competition in New Jersey, where they’ll have the chance to qualify for next year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

The thrill of competition or being on a team can be very valuable for an intellectually disabled person, Wartelle said.

“When our athletes do that, they really grow and they become more likely to take full-time jobs,” he said. “They become more active with their families, more active in the community.”

Wojick said Special Olympics Washington is looking to grow its athlete base by 25 percent over the next five years. It has started a partnership with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to bring “unified sports” – games that combine disabled and non-disabled athletes – to schools.

Special Olympics Washington tries to pay for every athlete who wishes to compete, at cost of $650 a year per athlete, Wojick said. A multi-million fundraiser like the Dream House Raffle could be groundbreaking.

“It’s going to change us dramatically,” Wojick said. “We’ve been looking for new sources of revenue for some time. You have to be out front on this sort of thing – it’s very competitive, as you can imagine.”

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