WILMINGTON – Recent hysteria over the national Powerball lottery game may have died down.
But the sense of excitement hasn’t left the Malcolm J. Mayo VFW Post 5422 in Wilmington, which holds a “Find the Queen of Hearts” fundraiser raffle on Wednesdays.
While the raffle brings excitement and business to Wilmington when the pot hits six digits, it also has city officials worried about safety and parking issues.
“It’s gotten real high, above $100,000,” VFW Manager Gina Wills said. “People are excited about this, and we have huge crowds outside the VFW.”
A record jackpot of more than $380,000 was hit Dec. 9. The current game jackpot stands at almost $80,000.
But the safety concerns led to a highly unpopular proposal in the City Council to lower the cap of the pot from $1 million to $100,000. That proposal was suspended, but caused the VFW to institute new crowd-controlling rules.
“Find the Queen of Hearts” is a simple game: 54 cards are securely laminated in a game board. Each card has a number.
Contestants buy tickets – six for $5 – and write their names and numbers they want.
At 6:30 p.m. Every Wednesday, one name is drawn. If a Queen of Hearts is selected, the contestant wins the pot, minus 15 percent for the VFW, 15 percent to start up the new game and 28 percent for income taxes.
Other queens and jokers also are winners, with the contestant winning a 5 percent payout.
The VFW has fueled scholarships and other aid to social organizations and veterans with its percentage.
VFW leaders were upset and felt slighted at the lack of input they got from city officials on the proposal to cap the jackpot, and all lottery-style earnings, at $100,000.
“There’s no reason why it should be capped,” VFW Commander Terry Cerutti said, noting the game boosts Wilmington’s economy on Wednesdays. “When the Powerball was big, the gas stations were packed and they didn’t cap that.”
The City Council decided last week to suspend the cap proposal after VFW leaders and supporters pleaded and questioned motives behind the cap, and after the VFW leaders said they would work with police and fire officials to control the crowds.
The agreement means the VFW will stop selling tickets outside its building. Officials also will discourage people from gathering around the hall.
But the cap hasn’t been taken off the table.
“It’s going to be evaluated [as the jackpot grows], and then we may take it off the table,” City Administrator Tony Graff said.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Phillip Arnold said the police and fire agencies have unfairly taken the brunt of the criticism.
“We’ve gotten the raw end of this deal,” Arnold said. “We are supporting the VFW, not trying to shut it down.”
To participate in the “Find the Queen of Hearts” game, head to the VFW at 557 W. Baltimore St., Wilmington, and buy tickets at six for $5 or 36 for $25. Write your name, phone number and desired card number on the ticket.
Drawings are held 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the VFW. “Queen of Hearts” winners don’t need to be present, but other winners are required to be. The VFW will stop allowing contestants in once the building reaches fire code capacity.