Highland News Leader

Buy-in, pot limit, insurance all questions as Highland draws ‘Queen of Hearts’ ordinance

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.

Highland city officials have drafted a potential ordinance to allow for the popular Queen of Hearts raffle.

The council expressed its interest three months ago in bringing the drawing to the city as a way for non-profit organizations to support charitable causes. City Manger Mark Latham, Highland Police Chief Terry Bell, and City Attorney Michael McGinley have been working since to come up with a draft ordinance.

Commonly, each player buys a $1 ticket to get a shot at the jackpot. Drawings usually happen once a week. At that time, a randomly chosen player picks a card, and if it is the queen of hearts, they win.

The game has became popular in the metro-east due to its ability to draw large jackpots. A jackpot in Aviston reached $1.09 million in November. When drawings get that high, they have potential to draw big crowds to small areas, which was what initially sparked the Highland council’s interest. However, the raffles have also drawn some criticism.

A recent Belleville News-Democrat investigation revealed local municipalities often have a hard time implementing the game correctly, due to their convoluted structure. In light of this, and the possibility of raffle drawing uncontrollable crowds to Highland, the council advised city officials to be very conservative when drafting the raffle ordinance.

How it could work

If the ordinance is adopted as currently written, any organization wishing to do a Queen of Hearts raffle must apply for a Class C, 52-week raffle license. The license would only be issued to organizations that operate without profit to its members. The organization would also have been in operation for at least five years.

Besides standard raffle regulations, Latham said there were several key limitations the drafting team, included to keep the raffle “conservative.”

In the current draft ordinance, those limitations would be:

▪  A $500 license fee would be set.

▪  Applicants would have to obtain a fidelity bond and a performance bond in an amount equal to the aggregate retail value of all prizes.

▪  Winnings would be capped at $1 million.

▪  Use a pin-based system would be required, where every player gets a pin with first ticket purchase.

▪  A maximum of 5,000 pins would be allowed per raffle license. Any raffle using more than 1,000 pins would require a special event permit, which needs council approval.

▪  A license term would be issued for 52 weeks, allowing drawing in consecutive weeks.

▪  Tickets would have to be sold at the location of where the raffle is held.

Take a look at the crowd at Aviston's Queen of Hearts drawing at the American Legion.

While the draft states the license term would be one year, McGinley said it would only last for one raffle event. For example, if the Queen of Hearts goes out in the first week, the license automatically expires, and the organization would have to apply for a new license to hold another raffle.

As for the bonds, McGinley said a fidelity bond is required to be in the ordinance, while a performance bond is not.

“It is more about making sure it is transparent where the money is going,” McGinley said.

What does the council think?

Mayor Joe Michaelis said draft is meant to provide some ground on which to start, but the council has the control of what the final ordinance will look like.

“We can’t draft something that is going to be suitable for every one. But, to be honest, this probably is not suited for everyone,” Michaelis said.

Still, council members’ opinions were split on many levels on the draft.

Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said the draft license fee was too high. She said the fee would discourage organizations from applying, especially if the raffle had potential to be over in one week.

There was no winner on Sept. 27 in the Queen of Hearts raffle at the American Legion Post in Aviston. The jackpot for Wednesday, Oct. 18, was expected to be about $450,000.

“I certainly wouldn’t do it at that rate,” she said.

Bellm also felt the performance bond requirement should be taken out of the ordinance. Requiring organizations to sell tickets at the place of the raffle was also limiting, she said, as many organizations have limited facilities, hours and staff.

McGinley said that it was not the drafting team’s intention to kill the raffle by including these requirements, but to protect the public.

“I don’t think that anyone with a small organization would even be remotely able to be involved in this,” McGinley said.

Councilman Aaron Schwarz said that organizations taking up the raffle ought to know that they, too, will be gambling, and nothing is guaranteed.

“It is a game of chance, so there is going to be some variance to it,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz also said the $500 license fee was reasonable, and that it might even be too low. He also said that tickets should not be sold anywhere besides the location.

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.

“It could allow for a lack of control,” Schwarz said.

Councilman Neill Nicolaides agreed that tickets should be sold at the location of the raffle.

Nicolaides proposed the license fee should be lowered to $100.

Schwarz, Bellm and Nicolaides all agreed on the length of the license, the necessity of the fidelity bond and the number of pins. They also agreed that a performance bond probably would not be necessary.

The council members also eventually agreed that $100 would be a suitable fee, though Schwarz said he wanted to see it higher, and Bellm still wanted to see it lower.

Councilman Rick Frey said one of his largest concerns was finding a way to ensure the location of the drawings are not held where a residential neighborhood could be inundated with parked cars. Other than that, Frey wanted to withhold his comments since he was out of town on vacation during a recent meeting where the council discussed the ordinance.

“Because I was unable to attend the meeting, and unable to hear the other council member comments, I need to withhold final comments until I return and get up to speed on this,” Frey said.

Latham said the drafting team will take the information provided by the council and construct a more finalized version of the ordinance. However, the ordinance will not appear on the council’s agenda until March 5, according to Latham, because the next council meeting will be over the city’s 2018-2019 budgeting process.

Megan Braa: 618-654-2366, ext 23, @MeganBraa_