This article originally appeared on Wisconsin State Journal Website. View the video and original article here: https://madison.com/news/local/doj-shut-down-the-queen-of-hearts-but-not-before-she-paid-out-big/article_84cfdf64-20e8-11ee-bda4-9f605230f6c7.html?mibextid=Zxz2cZ&fbclid=IwAR0MenauKEFECXWNHBWldjrACvW4y5B0BLwJ3P4kmmF7i2VtRgWH9bK-G3I#tracking-source=home-top-story
The Queen of Hearts went out with a $140,410 bang.
Just shy of a year after it started, a Mount Horeb bar’s progressive-pot raffle came to an abrupt end this week, after someone tipped off the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Tuesday night marked the end of The Dog House Bar and Grill’s Queen of Hearts raffle, which had amassed a jackpot of well over $100,000 because no one had won it in 50 weeks.
Each Tuesday night, patrons could purchase raffle tickets, and whichever ticket was drawn, its owner could flip one of 54 cards. Flipping over the queen of hearts netted someone 70% of the pot, with the remainder going to charity.
Week after week, though, no one won. And because each card remained flipped over, every week the chances of finding the winning queen got better.
With no winners in almost a year, the pot got big — and so did the crowds.
“Tuesday night was a very slow night for us and right off the bat (when we started having a raffle) the night improved dramatically for a weekday night for the bar sales-wise,” bar owner Nathan Faust said. “By the end of it, I mean, we just had some of the best sales nights we’ve ever had.”
Typically, the bar would see sales of $4,000 to $5,000 on busy nights, such as holidays.
Gross sales on Tuesday, which marked the last Queen of Hearts raffle, totaled $7,653.
Alas for the business, two DOJ agents recently showed up on Faust’s doorstep, paperwork in hand, to tell him his raffle was illegal.
The papers, which also were given to the Mount Horeb Police Department, cited Wisconsin Statute 563.03, which outlines legal processes, selections and drawings in raffles. By the time the Department of Justice was notified, the raffle had amassed just under $112,000.00.
While Faust was aware of Wisconsin gambling laws, he said he thought raffles like the ones he’d been hosting for the last year and a half were legal if a portion of the profits went toward a charitable organization.
In joining efforts with Felicia Diny, the founder and CEO of Felicia’s Donation Closet, a Madison-based nonprofit serving women and children seeking shelter from domestic violence, Faust said he thought the raffle was in good legal standing.
“Obviously I was wrong,” he said. “It’s just illegal all the way around.”
Diny had been a former coworker and provided much of the impetus in getting the raffle off the ground, approaching Faust about the raffle shortly after he purchased the bar.
As the leader of a nonprofit, Diny is well-versed in the necessary legal channels, licensing and government forms that go along with fundraising. Even so, Diny says she, too, thought the raffle was legal for a couple of reasons, including that it benefited her 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“It’s extremely hard to get grant money and I saw an opportunity on a way to raise money for my cause,” she said.
Faust and Diny said that the agents who notified them of the statute violation were kind: The pair didn’t face any legal penalties, and in fact, were allowed to finish out the raffle on Tuesday night, with some restrictions.
A letter from the Wisconsin Department of Administration said Faust had to give the grand prize, 70% of the pot, to the first ticket drawn. Word spread and the bar swelled with participants and spectators.
A grand total of $140,410 was distributed, with a grand prize winner boasting more than $90,000, a handful of small prize winners totaling a combined $5,000, and Felicia’s Donation Closet receiving $42,123.
It’s the most money Diny has raised in more than three years working for her cause.
To date, Felicia’s Donation Closet has helped 83 mothers and 132 children, furnishing their living arrangements with everything from mattresses to dish sets, she said. As the nonprofit expands, the funds from this raffle will make a big impact on the services it can provide.
“Having this kind of money means that we could go and purchase brand new items for the families if we don’t have it donated through the community,” she said. “It’s going to be huge.”
While Diny and Faust look into legal ways to run raffles and other fundraisers, they’ve drafted up a petition aimed at changing Wisconsin’s raffle laws, which Faust says already gained traction at Tuesday night’s final raffle event.
“I get having the gambling laws and stuff but I just, I feel like in situations like this, I mean, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s good for small business, obviously it’s good for the charity, and people seem to come out and enjoy it,” Faust said. “I just don’t see the harm in it.”