Editorials

Queen of Hearts raffles can’t trump common sense

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.

When News-Democrat reporters took a closer look at the growing popularity of the Queen of Hearts raffles, there were some disturbing revelations. They found about a dozen of the games were not following state law.

Technical violations, yes, but there is reason to care.

The games are growing bigger than anyone anticipated, creating public safety hazards as players crowd local fraternal and veterans halls.

“If something happens to someone inside ... if someone has a heart problem or something, you must be able to get into buildings and do rescue work on someone in there,” Steeleville Mayor Bob Sutton said. “It becomes a real challenge trying to get ambulance service in there.”

Caseyville saw the same issue when their drawing hit $450,000 at the VFW.

“You get 5,000 cars down there, you couldn’t get a fire truck down the street,” Mayor G.W. Scott Sr. said.

Aviston’s public safety is being overwhelmed by crowds drawn to a prize topping $1 million. Volunteer firefighters direct traffic, creating liability if one gets hurt or causes an accident.

The prizes have gotten large enough to attract criminals and lawyers.

A game loser could sue an unlicensed game. Someone hurt at an unlicensed game could sue the civic group as well as the municipality that failed to follow state law. A citizen motivated by religion or experience can take on a game, which happened when Morris, Illinois saw a $1.6 million game halted. If the local prosecutor wants, he can try to seize the money from an unlicensed game.

State regulation might be the ready answer for the hungry, hungry hippos in the statehouse eager to take a cut of the games. That is not necessarily the best course.

Local leaders just shared their cautionary tales of how crowds, huge prizes and games lasting a year overwhelm their towns. That should be enough for other local leaders to pay attention and allow common sense to trump the desire to raise cash to save their VFW hall or to build a new playground.

Limits on prizes and duration should be part of municipal ordinances. Local leaders should be trusted to keep the raffles from running wild and turning them into jokers.

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