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Aurora clubs not happy with proposed moratorium on ‘progressive’ raffles

Beth Waszkowiak (center right) held sign Aurora's Committee Whole meeting Tuesday night protest proposed moratorium progressive raffle games city. Woszkowiak

Beth Waszkowiak (center right) held a sign at Aurora's Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night in protest of the proposed moratorium on progressive raffle games in the city. Woszkowiak, chairman of the Tiger Athletic Club, said the social club raffles help support youth athletics and other community activities. | Stephanie Lulay~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:03PM

AURORA — While she couldn’t verbally address aldermen at the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night, Beth Waszkowiak was content to let a sign do the talking.

As city officials explained their desire to halt progressive raffle games in the city for now, Waszkowiak’s sign read: “Keep our historical social club alive! Don’t deny us our legal permits… our community depends on us!”

Waszkowiak, chairman of the Tiger Athletic Club, said the progressive raffle games help the social club support youth athletics and other community activities. She said the social clubs are a safe place to hang out in their Aurora neighborhood.

“In talking with a lot of the clubs, their activities do support a lot of activities for youth and baseball and boxing…,” said Alderman Kristina “Tina” Bohman, 1st Ward. Bohman is a member of the Turners and Phoenix Club, and participated in Phoenix Club’s most recent Queen of Hearts raffle.

Aurora officials announced earlier this month that they would move for a moratorium on progressive raffle games in the city. This follows a controversial payout in January by the Phoenix Club in Aurora.

The proposed six-month moratorium is designed to tackle big-winning raffles where the pot multiplies over a course of time, according to Aurora Director of Communications Clayton Muhammad.

On Jan. 31, more than 600 people showed up at the Aurora Phoenix Club for a Queen of Hearts raffle drawing. The raffle, which has been building all year at the private social club in the Pigeon Hill neighborhood, produced a contest jackpot worth $210,000.

City ordinance forbids all raffle organizers from giving away jackpots that exceed $100,000.

City officials thought it was unfair and impractical, if not impossible, to contact ticket holders, return their money and to cancel the raffle, so instead city officials decided to settle with club, Muhammad said. Under the agreed-upon compromise, city officials allowed the drawing to go on if the club made a minimum $20,000 donation to the Fox Valley United Way.

The Tiger Athletic Club raffle license expires March 17, according to Waszkowiak’s husband, Mark. The current progressive pot is about $8,000.

Phoenix Club President Craig Bonifas has not responded to past requests for comment.

City’s reasoning

Aurora Chief of Staff Carie Anne Ergo said the city’s current raffle ordinance doesn’t address progressive raffles.

City officials want the moratorium to stay in place for six months, or until the city can look at an ordinance for progressive raffles.

“Under a very strict legal interpretation of the current ordinance, progressive raffles aren’t even permitted,” Ergo said.

Because the city’s ordinance requires a date, time, location and amount of the raffle for a license to be issued, the progressive raffles wouldn’t qualify for a license.

““While it’s been issued by the Clerk’s Office historically under a very loose interpretation of the law, under a strict review of the law, it clearly wasn’t contemplated in our current ordinance,” Ergo said.

Ergo said the city will also move to get input from social clubs that may be affected by a change in the law.

Organizations that currently hold a license for a traditional or progressive raffle will be allowed to play out that raffle, Ergo said. New progressive raffle licenses would not be issued under the moratorium.

Aldermen will vote on the proposed moratorium at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place. Residents are able to publicly address Council at that meeting.

If approved, the moratorium would be effective immediately.

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