'We're going to do it again': McHenry VFW aims to improve Queen of Hearts raffle
Finally, there was room to maneuver Wednesday afternoon at McHenry VFW Post 4600 as the staff began to settle into a normal routine after months of hoopla and mayhem generated by the Queen of Hearts drawing.
"We're just getting a chance to breathe and regroup," said server/bartender Mary Scott. "We get a chance to talk and engage" with customers.
The long run came to an end before another packed house Tuesday night, with a winner known only as "Lori S." taking 60 percent of the more than $7 million pot. She is well aware many want to hear her story, but at her preference, she continues to remain anonymous, post leaders say.
While the dust has settled, the relative calm is temporary. Prominently beside the bar is what Post 4600 Cmdr. Dwane Lungren describes as a baited hook -- a sign showing the starting point of the next Queen of Hearts raffle at more than $3.4 million.
"It's not going to stop," he said of the unexpected and remarkable attention and strain Post 4600 encountered. "We're going to do it again."
That game won't start until Jan. 8, but Lungren and others already are working on a number of changes to make the next go-round more efficient and enjoyable.
Using shuttle buses, building a new parking lot, increasing the $100 payout to those whose tickets are drawn on a given week but don't win, amending the game rules so it won't "reset" midstream, and finding ways to ease the pressure on volunteers, for example, are among myriad possibilities to be determined.
"There are a lot of lessons learned that will be talked about in coming weeks and how do we make the next game better," said Jeff Homeier, president of the Post 4600 board.
From relatively simple details such as having enough ice and supplies available, to more complex matters like moving and controlling traffic, the Queen of Hearts evolved into a huge undertaking with disparate moving parts.
"People don't think of the logistics or operations," Homeier said. For example, Homeier estimated it was taking 300 to 400 volunteer man-hours each week to "rip" or separate tickets from a big roll into sections of six to be sold. Is there a machine that could do it automatically?
"I'm trying to have an engineer design one for me," Homeier said.
About 2.3 million tickets were in the huge tub for Tuesday night's drawing. The turnout and interest was so high that 13 members of the McHenry police force, including Chief John Birk, were on hand, according to Homeier.
Lungren said the VFW will be meeting with city officials to see what improvements can be made to minimize disruptions. Working with neighboring businesses and improving signage, for example, also are on the VFW's agenda.
The VFW is a charitable organization, but donors are not allowed to take tax deductions. That makes finding revenue sources besides food, drink and hall rentals difficult.
In that sense, the Queen of Hearts has been a bonanza. Post 4600 will get 20 percent -- or about $1.42 million -- tax-free as its share of the last pot. "How we go about asking the community for money is different from it was 30 years ago, and this is an example," he said. With such a game comes scrutiny and accountability, he added.
"At least we're not like the state (lottery) where nobody knows where the money goes," he said. "We'll show the public. We want to be transparent."