Aldermen approve new progressive raffle rules, shutting out Aurora social clubs

AURORA – Aldermen approved new rules that will keep the city’s social clubs from holding big-winning progressive raffles.

Aldermen voted 9-2 Tuesday night to approve new raffle rules that will allow religious, charitable, educational, labor, fraternal and veterans’ groups to stage progressive raffles. Social clubs, because of their unique classification with the Internal Revenue Service, will not be allowed to stage the raffles where the pot multiples over a course of time.

Alderman Kristina “Tina” Bohman, 1st Ward, and Alderman Ted Mesiacos, 3rd Ward, voted against the measure. Bohman is a member of the Phoenix Club and Mesiacos has two social clubs in his ward.

Social clubs, and all other organizations, will be allowed to stage raffles where the prize is less than $500. The small raffles do not require the organizer to obtain a raffle license from the city, according to Aurora Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo.

Social clubs were three of four organizations who held progressive raffles before aldermen approved a moratorium on the progressive gambling games in February, according to city counts. The city moved for the moratorium after a contest jackpot at the Aurora Phoenix Club swelled to more than $210,000, breaking city rules.

Although club leaders were present at City Council Tuesday night, no social club members addressed aldermen before the vote.

The city’s new ordinance language dictates other new raffles rules. The total raffle limit for a licensee will now be $100,000 per year and the total prize for each progressive raffle can be no more than $50,000 per game.

After the vote, Phoenix Club President Craig Bonifas said the Phoenix’s 1,600 members will be upset that the club can no longer hold progressive raffles.

“The queen is dead,” he said of the popular Queen of Hearts progressive raffle game. “(The vote) didn’t surprise me. The outcome was predetermined.”

Social clubs have access to other revenue streams that charities do not, including membership fees, video gambling revenue and bar and restaurant sales, Ergo said. She previously said that the big progressive jackpots “can easily raise to a level that would compete with (Hollywood) Casino.”

Before Tuesday night’s vote, city officials nixed proposed ordinance language that would have limited the number of progressive raffles an organization could stage to four each year.

Under previous ordinance rules, social clubs were not a permitted category of raffle licensees, but the groups had commonly obtained raffle licenses.

In January, more than 450 people showed up at the Aurora Phoenix Club for a Queen of Hearts raffle drawing. The raffle, which had been building all year at the private social club in the Pigeon Hill neighborhood, produced a contest jackpot worth $210,000. At the time, city ordinance forbid raffle organizers from giving away jackpots that exceed $100,000.

During the course of the city’s research on the progressive raffle issue, Ergo said residents, former residents and city employees said they experienced discrimination at one or more social clubs.

“Some of the incidents (occurred) well into the 21st century,” Ergo wrote in a city memo.

While clubs are not required to have a written policy addressing discrimination based on race or religion to maintain their IRS status, Aurora social club practices may still produce “de facto segregation,” Ergo said.

Most Aurora social clubs require two current members to sponsor potential members.

“It is well-known that many social clubs in Aurora have historically used this practice to discriminate against racial minorities,” Ergo said.

In a survey of social clubs during the moratorium, the city asked questions about racial makeup of clubs “to give clubs the opportunity to acknowledge these past practices and affirmatively state that they had changed long-established discriminatory policies.”

“The social clubs chose to do neither, which causes us to question whether they have changed their historical behavior toward minorities,” Ergo wrote.

City officials consulted with the local chapter of the NAACP, Quad County Urban League and Main Baptist Church regarding the social club’s request to continue progressive raffles.

“Representatives were concerned that granting social clubs the privilege to raise funds through raffle activities would compete directly with charitable organizations that provide substantial tangible community benefits,” Ergo wrote.

In an e-mail to city officials, Phoenix Club leaders indicated that they would not complete the survey because they disagreed with some of the questions. Bonifas said that the survey questions were offensive.

“They were asking use to break down our membership by race. We don’t do membership that way,” he said. “We don’t care who you are. As long as you’re a nice person and two members sponsor you, you’re in.”

Bonifas said Tuesday night that discrimination did exist in the Phoenix Club’s distant past, but does not today.

“I don’t make apologies for what other generations did. But we’ve fixed the issue. It doesn’t exist anymore and it shouldn’t,” he said. “It’s called growing up.”

The Phoenix Club first started allowing women to join individually as members seven years ago, he said. Previously, Phoenix Club had a women’s auxiliary, according to Bonifas.

Tags:

0 Comments

Advertisement

Modal