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DENISE CROSBY: Winner in Aurora Phoenix Club’s raffle worth $210,000

Updated: February 2, 2014 12:36PM

More than 500 people, many of them gathering hours in advance of the drawing, filled the Aurora Phoenix Club Friday night looking for the chance to be the one to win a contest jackpot worth $210,000.

The drawing was set for 8 p.m. in the Queen of Hearts raffle that has been building all year at this private social club in the Pigeon Hill neighborhood. And a winner was announced, but unfortunately, I got kicked out of the club before the big moment arrived.

The club’s board of directors didn’t want any additional publicity, they told me, because of issues with the city over the mounting jackpot.

The Queen of Hearts is a progressive game with the payout getting bigger each week the big prize does not go out. The problem was that city ordinance forbids not for profit clubs from jackpots that exceed $100,000. Aurora spokesman Clayton Muhammad said that when the city, which controls licensing on all fraternal social clubs, found out the prize had more than doubled, officials were forced to negotiate with the Phoenix Club to draw a winner on Friday, and ordered the club to donate a minimum of $20,000 to Fox Valley United Way.

The situation made the city realize there is “too much gray area” when it comes to licensing for these social fraternal clubs, said First Ward Alderman Kristina Bohman, whose ward contains the Phoenix Club.

“There’s a need to sit down and determine what each is allowed to do and not do,” she added.

Muhammad agreed that the ordinances need to be reviewed and updated from time to time, and this is a good opportunity to do just that. The Phoenix Club, he said, has been “very compliant” with the requests from the city. But there was obviously some residual from these negotiations as the club’s leaders pow-wowed together before determining my fate.

Sorry, they told me politely but firmly, “you are going to have to leave.”

At least my short time in the club gave me a chance to experience some of the excitement this large jackpot drawing had generated. The Phoenix Club, when I arrived before 7 p.m., was already getting close to the 610 maximum capacity. According to city officials, the fire marshal was monitoring the number of people who were in the building, and from what I saw, club officials were closely counting the number of members and their guests who came through the doors.

Inside, the upstairs and downstairs rooms were crawling with men and women of all ages who were enjoying the food and drinks and conversations ... and obvious sense of anticipation. One member, Vicki Stull, told me her mother arrived at 11 a.m. and there was already a line waiting to get in. A number of people had also made plans to leave work early to get in on the potential windfall.

While the club seemed concerned about the city’s reaction to publicity, Muhammad earlier expressed positive comments about the event that has created so much controversy, “It’s very exciting,” he said, “that a local group could raise that much money through ticket sales.”

In addition to the big winner, the community will benefit with at least $20,000 going to Fox Valley United Way. That check, Muhammad, said, will be donated five days after the Friday drawing.

According to one member, Queen of Hearts raffle tickets are purchased and then placed in a drum. One ticket is drawn and that winner then picks a card (54 total, plus two Jokers) which are hung face down in a frame on the wall.

If the Queen of Hearts is picked, that person is a winner. If another card is picked, the drawing rolls over a week. The losing card that was picked is then thrown out, making the deck smaller and the chance to win greater.

From what I was told, members or guests in the past could only collect half the pot if they were not present. But because a winner had to be named Friday, that person would get 90 percent of the jackpot even if he was not in the club.

Yes, it is a he. By early morning, I knew who the lucky local was ... but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. And the club was reluctant to provide any official information, including how much money was raised, despite even more begging and pleading on my part.

Suffice to say, the Phoenix Club’s Queen of Hearts raffle turned out to be a real game-changer. And even though the biggest winner isn’t being revealed publicly, I saw the crowd that was on hand Friday.

My bet? You already know.

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