Crowd lines up early for $1 million-plus Queen of Hearts raffle
After reshuffling some provisions, the City Council has approved an ordinance that will allow for the popular Queen of Hearts raffles to occur in Highland.
"We are open for business," said City Manager Mark Latham.
Council members Aaron Schwarz, Neill Nicolaides and Rick Frey voted in favor of the ordinance March 5.
Councilwoman Peggy Bellm was the only council member to reject the ordinance.
"I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now," Bellm said.
Conversations about bringing the raffle to Highland started in November. Since that time, city employees have worked to draft raffle guidelines that the council would find acceptable.
The raffle is used by non-profit organizations to earn supplemental income. Tickets are usually $1, and each ticket purchased gives the player a shot at the jackpot. Drawings are done once a week, every week. One player is chosen to draw a card. If it is the queen of hearts, they win.
Sometimes the raffle jackpots draw large jackpots, such as one in Aviston last fall that grew to over $1 million. This has helped it to become popular in the metro-east.
But, while the raffle might seem simple, they usually have convoluted guidelines.
A recent Belleville News-Democrat investigation showed local municipalities have a hard time playing the game correctly. In lieu of this, and crowd control, the Highland City Council wanted a conservative raffle ordinance.
At a February meeting, the council was presented with the first draft of an ordinance. The council provided the drafting team — Latham, Highland Police Chief Terry Bell, and City Attorney Michael McGinley — with its feedback. From those requests, the team was able to bring another draft with a few changes to the table.
Conducting a raffle
In order to hold a Queen of Hearts raffle, a Class C raffle license must be obtained. Only not-for-profit organizations based in Highland can obtain the license.
The license fee is $100. Each organization applying for a license must obtain a $5,000 fidelity bond, which Latham said will cost the organization about $50.
The license is good for one year. It allows the holder to sell raffle tickets, which can be priced up to $100, and hold a maximum of 52 raffles, one in consecutive weeks, according to the ordinance.
If the raffle goes until the 52nd week, the ordinance states the raffle must be concluded during that drawing.
Organizations that obtain a license can only sell tickets at the location of the raffle event. Organizations may rent a facility to hold raffle events, but that location must be specified on the application. Tickets can only be sold in city limits, and cannot be sold on city property.
Tickets will be sold on a "pin" basis, which limits the number of players that can play the game. Each player is issued a pin with the purchase of their first ticket. The player keeps that pin number throughout the raffle event, which is applied to all tickets the person buys.
Raffle licenses are split into two categories. First, organizations can cap their game at 2,000 players, or they can decide to hold a larger game with up to 5,000 players.
However, the number of players in any raffle is ultimately up to the discretion of the city's raffle administrator, which is the city manager or someone the city manager appoints. The decision on the number of players is to be based on health and safety factors, as well as the available amount of parking spaces at the raffle location.
2,000 player max
Organizations that wish to keep their player base to 2,000 only need to fill out a raffle license application. These events do not require approval from the council.
The winnings during a 2,000 player game will be capped at $500,000.
These events will be eligible for a "roll-over" period. This means when the raffle goes out, if nothing has changed on the original application, organizations will have five days to renew their license. To do this, the organizations would have to pay another license fee.
During the roll-over period, the organization will be able to continue with ticket sales. However, the ordinance says the city does not have to renew the license, which makes the organization liable for any ticket sales that cannot be fulfilled.
Latham said this option was added to the ordinance to provide a viable opportunity for smaller organizations to participate. However, he also said that many organizations might choose this option because it will be easier to handle.
"I would be shocked if someone tries to do the bigger one," Latham said.
The bigger one
Organizations planning to take on the larger raffle could see a jackpot of $1 million.
However, raffles with 2,001-5,000 pins need to fill out the city's special event application. These events will need City Council approval.
The maximum number of players allowed in the larger game will be determined by by the raffle administrator and recommended to the council for approval.
Unlike the smaller raffle, this event will not have a roll-over period. Once a winner is chosen, the license expires, even if there is a winner picked in the first drawing. After the license expires, the organization would have to pursue the process to obtain a license again.
Latham said the restrictions on this license were placed to keep organizations not capable of holding the raffles from applying. He said as these events grow, it takes an bigger undertaking to deal with them.
"We don't want to get into a situation like over in Aviston," Latham said.
Any organizations that violates the raffle ordinance will be fined. Fine ranges from $100 to $750 per offense. The ordinance states that each day the violation continues will be a separate offense. Each day in which a violation continues shall be considered a separate offense.
During the February council meeting, Bellm pushed to have the ordinance made more accessible to smaller organizations. However, even with the changes to the ordinance, she said the ordinance is not a fair deal.
"I think it has a lot of potential, but it is so restrictive and so limited that it is not fair across the board," Bellm said.
Bellm reiterated that she thought it was not fair for tickets only to be sold at the location of the event, and doing so would exclude many organizations from participating. She also said it is not reasonable for smaller organizations to rent a facility for the raffle.
Bellm also objected to the way pins are determined, and disagreed with allowing a roll-over period for the smaller raffles. She said doing this would create too much liability for organizations who continued with ticket sales.
"What a nightmare that could be," she said.
The only council member to address Bellm's concerns was Rick Frey. Frey also said the location of ticket sale could prevent some organizations from participating, though he said allowing groups to rent a facility was a more flexible option.
"I don't think we are trying to discriminate anybody," Frey said.
Councilmen Nicolaides and Schwarz raised no objections during the raffle discussion.