BELLEVILLE – A newspaper investigation has found that at least a dozen raffles conducted largely by veterans’ organizations in southwestern Illinois may not conform to state law.
The Belleville News-Democrat investigation revealed that some Queen of Hearts raffles appear to violate parts of the state’s Raffles and Poker Runs Act. The investigation also found that ordinances in the cities hosting the raffles don’t appear to be consistent with state law or enforced.
Queen of Hearts raffles began gaining popularity in southern Illinois over the past two years. Players buy tickets in the hopes of being drawn to choose a playing card from a board. If the player gets the queen of hearts card they win the jackpot. If not, the game continues with new tickets sold and an increasing jackpot until there’s a winner.
Gambling critics and experts said state laws that aren’t followed or enforced could lead to issues. The government could seize prize money. Losing players may demand refunds. Organizations’ insurance policies might not cover accidents and large crowds can threaten the safety of communities.
The most common problems the newspaper found with the raffles and city raffle ordinances included issues with maximum prize amounts, issues with raffle licenses or the application for licenses and raffles held at premises that don’t appear to be allowed under state law.
The Queen of Hearts raffle that the American Legion is hosting in Aviston rolled over again on Wednesday night, when the jackpot stood at $948,000. Legion officials said they expect a jackpot topping $1 million next week.
The Aviston American Legion has a license issued by the city but never filled out an application. Aviston Mayor Dale Haukap said the city made a mistake and is now having the American Legion fill out an application.
“We issued a license; we thought, ‘This is great, this is going to cover everything.’ But we looked deeper into it and saw the application form wasn’t filled out,” Haukap said.
“It was a negligence on us.” he said. “Little small towns like us, we never had to think about it before.”
University of Illinois professor John Kindt, who has taught law and economics for almost 40 years and specializes in gambling, said trouble regulating raffles isn’t just a local problem.
“We all have great sympathy for veteran organizations, but who is overseeing these situations to make sure that mistakes aren’t made? I don’t think anyone is regulating them,” he said.
Queen of Hearts games also have been played elsewhere in Illinois, including Chicago, Springfield and Carbondale.