Feeling lucky? McHenry VFW's Queen of Hearts jackpot stands at nearly $2.6 million
McHenry VFW Post 4600 is closed Mondays, but that didn't stop visitors looking for a cut of nearly $2.6 million from knocking on the locked doors.
That's because the Queen of Hearts raffle has taken on a life of its own, and the lodge off Route 120 just east of the Fox River is the only place to buy tickets.
The weekly drawing is at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, and because there has not been a winner in a long time, the jackpot has grown. Each week, the parking lot fills quickly, and the line sometimes extends onto Route 120 in both directions. The winner's portion is 60 percent.
"We have about 600 people (on drawing day)," said Dwane Lungren, post commander. "We park them in the grass."
Several other VFW posts run Queen of Hearts raffles. About a year ago, the prize in Morris reached about $1.6 million.
"I have not heard of any larger one," Lungren said.
In a sense, the continuing game has become a handful for the volunteers of McHenry Post 4600 who run it and deal with logistics.
"We have about 40 volunteers who work each week to keep this going," according to Lungren. "The first time, about 10 of us could handle it."
But it also presents a welcome source of additional revenue to support veterans in various ways.
"It's grown in popularity. Once it reached that magic $1 million mark, we started selling $100,000 to $200,000 every week," Lungren said.
Tickets are six for $5. Last week, $300,000 worth of tickets were sold, according to Lungren.
Marilynn Gazekas, owner of Maxine's Vintage Corner on Route 120 on the other side of the river, has been playing the game for more than a year and bought a stamp with her name and phone number to speed the ticket-buying process.
"I want to win that money. Everybody's doing it," she said. "I've seen people walk in pouring rain to get there."
Jim Westfall of Johnsburg was among those who wanted to buy more tickets Monday but didn't know the post was closed. He said he'd read about the Queen of Hearts raffle but didn't realize how large the jackpot was and decided to try it.
"I support the VFW. My children used to play baseball on the diamonds (at the site). I buy lottery tickets once in awhile. I thought this was more important," he said.
The game is based on a shuffled standard deck of 52 playing cards plus two jokers. Each is put in a numbered envelope and placed on a board. Every Tuesday, a raffle ticket is drawn, and that person gets to reveal a card.
If the queen of hearts surfaces, that's the big winner; otherwise, the jackpot rolls over. If a ticket holder doesn't attend the drawing, he or she contacted and asked to call back the next day. According to the VFW, the winner receives 60 percent of the jackpot. The VFW collects 20 percent of the remainder, with the other 20 percent used to start the next raffle pot. A secondary prize of 5 percent of the pot, minus taxes, is awarded if the queen of clubs surfaces.
To safeguard the proceeds and protect the integrity of the game, the ticket money is counted at the end of each day and verified by two people, according to Lungren.
This is the second game that's been played. The first jackpot of $32,000 was awarded in October 2016.
The current game started in November 2016, but the board was "reset" when the second joker was revealed, Lungren said. At that point, the jackpot was $232,000. Fifteen numbered envelopes containing cards currently are left on the board, he added.
Post 4600 started the Queen of Hearts raffle in April 2016, looking for additional income to help with veterans programs and improvements to the facilities, according to Lungren.
"This is what we needed," he said. "We understand this isn't going to last forever. There are other groups jumping on the bandwagon, (and) it may get watered down."
The state does not have jurisdiction, but ordinances covering raffles are set up at the county or municipal level in accordance with the Illinois Raffles and Poker Run Act, according to Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue.
McHenry's municipal code allows nonprofit organizations to hold raffles, and Post 4600 has a license. The city recently raised the limit on raffles within the city limits to $3 million, which gives Post 4600 a maximum jackpot of $5 million.
Lungren said there have been some naysayers, but the vast majority of comments regarding the raffle have been positive.
"This is not a scam," Lungren said.
"It helps our veterans programs. We're not pocketing it," he added.
How the Queen of Hearts game is played• Game is based on shuffled deck of 52 standard playing cards plus two jokers.
• Numbers are arranged in six rows of nine on a board. Previously selected playing cards are face up.
• Ticket-buyers must write their full name, phone number and the number -- 15 numbers are eligible this week -- they want to select on each ticket. A ticket with missing or illegible information will be discarded and another picked.
• The person holding selected ticket need not be present. The VFW will call and ask the player to call back the next day.
• The envelope corresponding to the ticket selected at the drawing is opened and the playing card revealed. The queen of hearts wins; otherwise, the game continues for another week.
• The queen of hearts means the winner receives 60 percent of the jackpot. Federal and state taxes are withheld.
• Tickets are good only for the week of the drawing. If there's no winner, new tickets must be purchased to play again.
• Six tickets cost $5 and can be purchased only at the McHenry VFW Post 4600, 3002 W. Route 120, during operating hours. The post is closed Mondays. Players must be 18 or older.