Metro-East News

Queen of Hearts raffle approaching $1 million in Steeleville

Crowd lines up early for $1 million-plus Queen of Hearts raffle

A crowd began forming early Wednesday afternoon outside the Aviston American Legion, where a $1 million-plus Queen of Hearts raffle drawing was to be held at 8 p.m. People said they wanted to get seats and tables when the hall opened at 3 p.m.
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A crowd began forming early Wednesday afternoon outside the Aviston American Legion, where a $1 million-plus Queen of Hearts raffle drawing was to be held at 8 p.m. People said they wanted to get seats and tables when the hall opened at 3 p.m.

The Queen of Hearts raffle in Steeleville is approaching the $1 million mark and has 17 cards left in the deck, months after controversy forced some Southern Illinois cities to change their ordinances.

The American Legion Post in Steeleville has grown to a $900,200 jackpot in its weekly Queen of Hearts game, in which players pay $1 to get a shot at the jackpot. One player is randomly chosen to draw a single card, and if it is the Queen of Hearts, they win. Otherwise, it rolls over to the next week.

The drawing will be held 8 p.m. Thursday.

In Steeleville, the Legion’s Queen of Hearts topped $400,000 in the past, which was more than 15 times the maximum raffle jackpot limit of $25,000. There was no application form for the raffle licenses.

The limit has since been raised to $1.5 million with required applications and surety bonds, according to the Randolph County Herald Tribune.

A News-Democrat investigation in November found that at least a dozen such raffles might be operating in violation of state law, or at least city ordinances that are required in order to issue raffle licenses. Those ordinances must have a maximum prize amount, according to state law. But some games were being operated without a license, or the ordinances themselves did not comply with state requirements.

The Aviston Queen of Hearts ran for more than 40 weeks and hit more than $1 million before half the jackpot was finally won. It had a license, but organizers never filled out an application. Two Queen of Hearts raffles in Breese were operating on licenses with "verbal applications," and Nashville's raffle ran four times despite no raffle ordinance in the city. In 2016, a VFW Queen of Hearts in Morris reached $1.6 million, and was shut down hours before the drawing.

Meanwhile, the city of Highland has been discussing a raffle ordinance that would call for a $500 license fee per raffle, fidelity and performance bonds, and a winnings cap of $1 million as well as a maximum number of chances sold. The council is expected to consider the proposal in March.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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