A lucrative (and exhausting) Queen of Hearts raffle for McHenry VFW
Quest for the queen of hearts brings mixed luck for Post 4600
The doors at McHenry VFW Post 4600 won't open for 45 minutes, but already the grounds are abuzz with cars jockeying for spots and a rapidly growing line of visitors waiting to buy tickets for a chance at a big payday.
"This is insane," says first-time customer Cheryl Mitacek, who drove 40 miles from Delavan, Wisconsin, Thursday for a crack at the Queen of Hearts raffle. "I've never heard of anything quite like this before."
Neither have those who work or volunteer at the VFW off Route 120 east of the Fox River, although they have gotten used to the torrent of activity as the jackpot keeps rolling over and has reached $4.86 million for Tuesday's drawing.
Ten minutes after the doors opened, the banquet hall is filled with couples, moms with kids, seniors and others hunched over card tables printing their names and phone numbers on raffle tickets.
The experience has been positive in many ways, but the constant attention is wearing on the staff and volunteers who have been working long hours, tearing tickets, directing parking and doing other tasks to keep up with demand.
"The volunteers are pretty tired, and they're anxious for the game to come to a conclusion," said Jeff Homeier, president of the VFW board. "The crowds and the amount of work is overtaxing for the staff, and the volunteers are at their limits."
Post Cmdr. Dwane Lungren said about 40 volunteers are on duty on drawing nights, with about 15 dedicated to various tasks during the week.
"It's one of those mixed bags," Lungren said. "Some are OK, some stay positive, but some, it's wearing on them (and) they want the break. It's understandable."
What began as a fundraiser to upgrade the facilities has become a phenomenon for Post 4600.
"When we first started, we thought we'd get people for the game and a few more people for the business," Lungren said. "We used to have a break in between (busy periods). Now it's continual."
Because of the overwhelming success, Lungren and others have received "how do you do it" inquiries from posts as far away as California.
"We've fine-tuned it so much a lot of other posts have noticed it. We've been giving them advice," Lungren said. "You've got to be able to handle the crowds and traffic."
Security also is key. Two uniformed city police officers are on duty in the hall from about 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and also pop in during the day. On other days, private security is on premises.
On the plus side, 17 new members have joined Post 4600 the last two months, and food and beverage sales have soared. Despite the menu being temporarily limited to reduce waiting for customers, three times as much food is being ordered and an outside portable cooler is being brought in to keep pace. The VFW kitchen keeps setting records for pizza-making.
Three bartenders, rather than the usual one, are on duty, and the VFW likely is one of the few places in town where the bar and eating areas are full by noon.
"It's crazy. It gets a little busier every day," says server Susan Hirsch.
And, because the post gets 20 percent of the jackpot total, long-needed projects such as plumbing upgrades are in the works. Support for various veterans groups and other causes also will increase as a result.
"It's been a big surprise to the post and VFW members that it's been so successful," Homeier said. "It will allow us to fund a variety of veterans programs and contribute to the community."
The jackpot has rolled over for 44 consecutive weeks and tickets are being sold nearly every minute the VFW is open. Six tickets cost $5. Lungren estimates $700,000 to $800,000 in tickets will be sold ahead of the Aug. 28 drawing.
As an example of the work involved, Homeier said, it takes about 50 minutes to "rip" or separate a roll of tickets into sections of six, and it has gotten to the point that 250 or more rolls a week are needed.
The game has 54 numbered spots based on a standard deck of cards and two jokers. The queen of hearts is the big card, paying 60 percent of the jackpot total to the winner. Ten numbers remain. The other queens and the two jokers also pay 5 percent, but only the queen of clubs is still in play.
A rumor that officials will keep picking numbers until a winner is found is false, Post 4600 officials say. That scenario will happen only if the $10 million maximum allowed jackpot is reached or safety becomes an issue.
However, it has been determined that whenever this game ends, a new one won't start until Jan. 8 to give everyone a breather. And it will be well-funded as 20 percent of the current jackpot will be used as the base for the next game.