McHenry City Council agrees to extend VFW Queen of Hearts game through August

City Council to allow VFW game to go through August

The McHenry City Council has agreed to extend McHenry Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4600’s Queen of Hearts game through August.

The council had called a special meeting Thursday to consider the matter. VFW officials want to extend the game, which originally was set to conclude by July 30 under city ordinance. VFW officials said the game has been less popular this time around and hasn’t caused any problems.

“[The last round] went viral,” said Ben Keefe, the VFW’s senior vice commander. “I don’t see that happening again. It’s a one-time thing. I think our crowds may increase, but at the pace they have been increasing, I don’t see it being an issue.”

The game in its last round caused traffic and safety concerns as the jackpot swelled to more than $7 million, so city officials put stricter rules in place for this round.

The new rules included the July 30 deadline. The game also started with fewer cards on the board. Mayor Wayne Jett previously said he didn’t want to see the game extended, but the majority of City Council members wanted to revisit the matter.

Queen of Hearts is a game in which cards are placed in individual, numbered envelopes and put on a board. Players buy raffle tickets for a chance to guess which envelope holds the queen of hearts. The drawing is weekly.

Keefe said he had heard criticism of the rule changes from former participants.

“I think we upset a lot of people with the rule changes, which we put in place to control the crowds,” Keefe said. “I see a lot of people ... who say, ‘I am never going back. You guys changed the rules.’ ”

The VFW sold about $200,000 in tickets before Tuesday’s drawing. The jackpot now is at about $4.2 million. At that point last year, Keefe said he would have expected to see sales of about $600,000.

If a winner has not emerged before the August deadline, a drawdown will have to occur. A drawdown means that the VFW will continue to pick cards off the board until the queen of hearts is revealed in one night.

The last Tuesday of the month is Aug. 27, which is when the drawdown would occur.

If the jackpot increases to more than $6 million before the August deadline, a drawdown would have to occur to follow maximum payout limitations.

The maximum payout is set at $3 million and will go down to $1 million Sept. 1, under the new ordinance.

The winner of the Queen of Hearts will get 50% of the pot, 40% of the pot will go to the VFW, and 10% will be used to start the next round.

Keefe said a larger crowd likely would gather in the event of a drawdown, which would create the very problem the city is trying to avoid.

“I would prefer to see it go naturally, [rather] than do a drawdown,” Keefe said. “I think to have [someone win] on a random Tuesday would be better for everyone.”

McHenry Police Chief John Birk said the VFW had been willing to work with the city in the past when concerns arose and he trusted they will cooperate again if problems start occurring.

“The VFW has worked with us hand-in-hand,” Birk said. “If for some reason there is an issue on say Aug. 20, I am confidant the VFW would do a drawdown for the purpose of safety.”

City Council members voted to allow the extension, 6-1, with Alderwoman Bobbi Baehne voting against the change. An indemnification also is in place to absolve the city of any potential liabilities.

Jett said he wanted the clause in place to alleviate any risk to the city.

“They are changing the game, so I want to make sure we protect ourselves,” Jett said.

He said his primary concerns were potential negative effects to neighboring businesses, traffic and the amount of money that flows through the business.

He said he wants residents to be aware that there would be more Queen of Hearts games in the future.

“There is a lot of support for this to continue,” he said. “There are a lot of people upset that the city is getting involved, but it’s not ending the game. It’s just alleviating some risk.”

Baehne said she voted against the extension because owners of neighboring businesses had told her they were negatively affected by the game last year.

“I just think we are walking a fine line between supporting a great organization and an exciting thing in the community, and making sure we aren’t actually doing harm to local businesses, which were definitely harmed last time,” she said. “Everything has been great this year, but there is no telling what will happen in four weeks, or in six weeks.”

Queen of Hearts tickets can be bought at the VFW, 3002 W. Route 120, with cash from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets also will be sold from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday before the drawing.

If a 10 is drawn, the ticketholder will receive $5,000. Jacks are worth $10,000 to the ticketholder, kings are worth $15,000, aces are worth $20,000, the three queens other than the queen of hearts are worth $25,000, and the jokers are worth $30,000.

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