CITY HALL — With a hugely-popular but still unclaimed raffle at a Southwest Side bar approaching a $1 million pot, Chicago aldermen are scrambling to change the city’s legal limit for raffle prizes.
The current Chicago law caps a 50/50 raffle payout at $500,000, or half of a $1 million pot.
But now that the Queen of Hearts raffle at McNally’s in Morgan Park is quickly approaching that level, and the local alderman moved to up the limit Monday.
Under 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea’s proposed ordinance, which cleared the city’s Finance Committee Monday, the top legal jackpot would be quadrupled to $2 million — meaning a 50/50 raffle could legally reach $4 million.
O’Shea said he was confident the full City Council would act Wednesday to approve the higher limit in time for the next drawing at McNally’s, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. Thursday.
McNally’s has told its thirsty raffle ticket buyers to hold tight before they could officially announce if the raffle would be allowed to rollover.
No one has won the raffle for 39 straight weekly drawings, causing the pot to roll over each week.
About half the proceeds from the raffle benefit St. Cajetan School, a Catholic school in the neighborhood.
O’Shea said he authored the measure to help private and parochial schools in his ward that rely on fundraising because they do not get government funding.
“You can bet the money raised will be well used by St. Cajetan,” O’Shea said.
Queen of Hearts raffles have seen a surge in popularity in Chicago and around the state, with the McNally’s raffle taking the cake.
McNally’s at 11136 S. Western Ave. had been somewhat sleepy at times. But ever since the raffle pot grew, people have flocked to the tavern to get their tickets (six for $5).
Some people line up in the morning. Others come toting custom rubber stamps so they don’t have to keep writing their names on the tickets they buy.
The raffle with the potential for a lucrative pot is named for the elusive playing card.
Those buying tickets write their name, phone number and a card number on each raffle ticket and then take a guess as to where the Queen of Hearts is hidden in the deck.
When the game begins, the cards are placed face down on a poster board and numbered 1-54 (the jokers are left in the deck for St. Cajetan’s raffle). The board is then laminated and thus sealed.
A raffle ticket is chosen each week from the pile at random. A number written on the ticket by the buyer decides which card will be cut out of the laminated poster. If that card is the Queen of Hearts, the winner shares the proceeds evenly with the Catholic school.
If that card is anything other than the Queen of Hearts, the pot rolls over into the next week. All of the previous raffle tickets are thrown out.
The crowd is electric on the night of the drawing each week. Customers stand shoulder to shoulder as an enormous metal tumbler filled with tickets is spun over and over again as a woman dressed as the Queen of Hearts presides. A teacher or parent from St. Cajetan School typically pulls a raffle ticket from the large drum, and the crowd quiets as the name is read over a loud speaker along with the number of the card that has been selected.