Watch as winner is chosen in Steeleville's $1.5 million Queen of Hearts raffle
An ambulance had trouble getting to the American Legion hall because cars choked the streets for more than a quarter mile in every direction. There were disputes as visitors blocked residents' driveways. The six portable lavatories were overwhelmed. Six village police officers, four deputy sheriffs and a state trooper were there to handle the crowds.
What if the ambulance couldn't get through and that patient had been having a heart attack? What if the Legion had caught fire? What if impassioned gamblers became upset about how the game was operated? What if armed robbers decided to take all that cash?
Then what if survivors of any of those scenarios sued the village for failing to keep access open and the crowds under control?
Sutton said the raffles are saving dying Legion halls, but there is a cost to taxpayers and stress on small police departments from the raffles. No one from the legion has offered to reimburse the village for police or other costs with any of the more than $264,705 in proceeds Sutton calculates came off the top for this latest raffle.
It was the Legion's third. He expects another.
What is unbelievable is that none of the many taxed forms of Illinois gambling — lottery, horse tracks, casinos, video gaming, bingo — is crying about the loss of market share. What is unbelievable is that state lawmakers who never saw a tax they didn't like are not salivating over the potential revenue.
Steeleville has limits in place, which is why the drawing on Thursday kept going until there was a winner. The raffles are limited to a year and to $1.5 million.
But other small Illinois communities have seen raffles swell to that amount and more. Morris hit $1.6 million.
Caseyville saw 5,000 cars clog access that would have prevented a firetruck from getting through. Aviston public safety was overwhelmed, and firefighters were directing traffic.
The games, even with some local regulations, are a recipe for disaster that are costing local taxpayers. Time for the state to step in, further regulate the games beyond a local permit and tax the games just like other Illinois gambling.
If Illinois continues accepting the social costs of legalized gambling in exchange for taxes, then we also should address the public costs from Queen of Hearts raffles.