'Fred K.' is the $2.7 million winner of McHenry Queen of Hearts raffle
After 10 weeks of suspense, a "Fred K." was picked as the grand prize winner Tuesday night in the wildly popular Queen of Hearts raffle run by McHenry VFW Post 4600.
Fred K. will receive $2,738,020 before taxes, 50% of the $5,476,041 pot. State and federal taxes total 33%, so take-home winnings will be about $1,834,474.
Fred K. was not in the house or did not come forward after his ticket was pulled from the drum by McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett and the number he had picked -- 16 -- revealed the coveted queen of hearts.
And there were other winners as new rules for this run of the game awarded prizes of $5,000 to $30,000 for face cards. A total of $170,000 was awarded before the big one hit.
"We'll contact everybody tonight," said Ben Keefe, the post's senior vice commander. The VFW, he added, will not reveal the identities of the winners if they wish to remain anonymous.
"If they were in this room and didn't come forward and kept a straight face, I would be very impressed," Keefe said.
Winners have 24 hours from being contacted or having a voicemail left to contact the post, Keefe said. No winner has ever not responded during that time, he said.
Twelve envelopes remained unopened at the beginning of the night and the queen of hearts wasn't found until the 14th draw, as for a few of the numbers drawn, the players selected envelopes already picked. The drawdown, in which tickets are drawn and cards revealed until a winner emerges, was mandated because of city rules limiting the duration of the game to the end of August. Two envelopes remained in the end.
The packed hall ebbed and flowed with cheers and moans as numbers were turned and the queen remained hidden. But the crowd erupted and confetti flew after Keefe displayed the queen of hearts. While the winner received 50% of the pot, the VFW is taking 40% and the remaining 10% is reserved as the base for a new game.
Kim Kolb of Grayslake had a front-row seat for the drawing. Her ticket number was drawn during the last big game, but her number wasn't a winner and she left with a $100 consolation prize.
"It's really fun," she said after the winner was announced Tuesday. "The energy of the room was fun. You meet so many friends here. The more I came, the more people I know."
The Queen of Hearts weekly drawing restarted June 18 with a prize of $3.4 million after a nine-month breather from the wildly successful and chaotic run that ended last September 2018 with a drawdown because it had become too unwieldy.
The unexpected response to that game, which ended with the winner receiving $4,248,317 before taxes, overwhelmed VFW volunteers and became a phenomenon but created traffic and parking issues and strained municipal resources.
As a result, the game was streamlined and retooled for this year.
"The crowds were a lot larger, there were a lot more tickets sold and a lot of chaos because we never expected to grow as big as we did," said Jeff Homeier, president of the Post 4600 board.
A big difference in this game was tickets cost $5 each rather than six for $5, and the deck was limited to 22 cards -- 10s through aces in every suit and two jokers -- rather than a full deck of 52 plus two jokers.
Another change was that someone was guaranteed from $5,000 to $30,000 every week the Queen of Hearts remained hidden. Last year the consolation prize for someone whose ticket was drawn but didn't reveal the big prize was $100.
This time, ticket sales were limited to a trailer outside. With its portion of the pot, Post 4600 made several improvements, including building a massive parking lot. Ticket sale times were adjusted and parking and ticket sales were confined to one-way traffic.
"Those (changes) all contributed to making it more efficient and effective in moving people through the process," Homeier said.
The VFW also used proceeds to modernize electrical service and other systems, make other building improvements, and donate to veterans programs and services and other organizations.
The original prize limit set by the city was $100,000 in July 2016 but was increased to $6 million last August. This summer, city officials limited the game to the end of August and reduced the winner's share to $1 million after Sept. 1.