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Queen of Hearts games pose legal risks to cities, consultant warns

Queen of Hearts raffles take Southern Illinois by storm

File video: The Nashville American Legion had one of the area's first big pots. Now the Steeleville American Legion's jackpot has passed $1.4 million.
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File video: The Nashville American Legion had one of the area's first big pots. Now the Steeleville American Legion's jackpot has passed $1.4 million.

A company that helps Illinois cities and counties write and organize their ordinances has sent 350 letters to its clients, offering advice on how to legally conduct raffles.

Illinois Codification Services, owned by Frank Heiligenstein, of Freeburg, mailed the letters, along with a draft of a proposed raffle ordinance, in response to a Belleville News-Democrat investigation of Queen of Hearts raffles in the area. The newspaper’s investigation found that some municipalities have raffle ordinances that conflict with state law, and other municipalities don’t appear to be enforcing their existing raffle ordinances.

Heiligenstein, who also serves on the St. Clair County Board, said he wanted to provide a guide for cities to ensure raffles are not being run illegally.

“So many of them were getting in a pickle,” he said. “They think they know what they’re doing on their own, but they don’t.”

Heiligenstein’s company works with cities to keep their ordinances up-to-date, coordinating with officials to make sure city laws are in accordance with state laws. He said his company sends out a quarterly newsletter that includes new laws that will affect the southern two-thirds of Illinois. His last newsletter included updates to the raffle law.

My assessment is, it falls on the municipalities to be responsible for these activities.

Illinois Gaming Board administrator Mark Ostrowski

“They (the cities) did not even want to mess with it, they buried their heads in the sand. I said this is the only way you can keep raffles legal, is if you follow these,” he said.

Heiligenstein said many of the cities mentioned in the News-Democrat’s report were the same cities that decided to create their own raffle regulations.

“They decided to do it on their own and they fell behind, and we’re adopting new laws. I always told them, put this raffle ordinance in here, get these organizations a raffle license so the state can’t come in and confiscate their money,” Heiligenstein said.

Illinois Gaming Board administrator Mark Ostrowski said the board can revoke the video-gaming license of an establishment if they violate gambling laws. The Gaming Board only deals with locations running video-gaming machines on-site.

“We don’t look into it unless they have video-gaming terminals, and then we make sure they’re complying with other laws as it relates to those activities,” Ostrowski said. “My assessment is, it falls on the municipalities to be responsible for these activities.”

Albers Mayor Steve Schomaker said the city has worked with Heiligenstein before on different ordinances.

He said Albers is looking to make some changes to its raffle ordinance if necessary. As of Saturday, he said the village had not received a copy of Heiligenstein’s proposed ordinance, but if they do, they will look at it.

“We’d be dumb not to,” he said.

The American Legion in Albers, which currently holds a Queen of Hearts raffle with a jackpot that stands above $10,000, never received a license from the city.

However, Schomaker said he believes the town and Legion are still complying with state law because the village’s ordinance itself serves as a license. The existing Albers ordinance essentially says any non-profit, charitable or religious organization can conduct a raffle at any time, at any place, without a license.

“If someone comes to us and says our ordinance is not correct, I assure you we’re going to do everything to make it right,” he said. “We’re a small town but we still live within the law.”

Breese Mayor Charles Hilmes said the city was already planning on updating its regulations, but they will also be using the ordinance Heiligenstein sent as a guide.

“What he sent out is a sample of what you could use for your own law,” Hilmes said. “I’m a believer anytime you find something that has worked before, you should look at it to make sure you’re on the right track.”

The city is planning on adding an application process and a prize limit to their raffle ordinance, both requirements under Illinois’ Raffle and Poker Runs Act. Hilmes said the city will still have its lawyer look over the ordinance and check with local organizations before updating the law.

The problem is, some of these mayors and/or village presidents don’t pay attention, and they’ll just discard it.

Frank Heiligenstein, owner of Illinois Codification Services

Heiligenstein is hoping municipalities will be able to pass corrected ordinances.

“Don’t jeopardize your local charitable organizations, whether it’s church or Legion or fraternal group,” he said. “Have the ordinance in place and let them know that they need to get a license under it to protect them and be legal under state law.”

He is not sure, however, that every city will use the guide.

“The problem is, some of these mayors and/or village presidents don’t pay attention, and they’ll just discard it,” he said.

At least a dozen Queen of Hearts raffles conducted in the metro-east may not be in accordance with state law or local ordinances, according to the News-Democrat’s report.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6

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