AMBOY – Last year, the Depot Days 50/50 raffle paid $74,503 to one lucky winner. This year’s even luckier winner pocketed $107,575.
Those raffles were the first two in the event’s 24-year history in which the total money raised – the winner’s 50 percent and the organizers’ share – totaled more than $100,000.
Which means organizers should have bought a raffle license.
The city of Amboy doesn’t even have a raffle ordinance on the books, so it can’t issue a license.
According to the state’s Raffles and Poker Runs Act, if a local municipality doesn’t have a raffle ordinance and can’t issue a license, event organizers can get one from the county.
Lee County has such an ordinance, but never has issued a raffle license, Clerk Cathy Myers said.
The county ordinance requires a license for raffles if the “aggregate value” exceeds $100,000. No license is needed if it’s less than that.
Hank Gerdes, one of the organizers of Depot Days, said the group wasn’t aware that it needed a license.
But he said he would make sure the raffle is in full compliance next year.
It won’t make much of a dent in its fundraising: A county raffle license is $50, and for an ongoing raffle, organizers can renew it yearly for a mere $15.
Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Klahn declined to comment on what action, if any, the county would take.
“It’s inappropriate for the state’s attorney’s office to comment on it without an investigation,” he said.
The Depot Days raffle started out like most local 50/50s. In 2000, it raised $16,180. By 2009, that amount exceeded $30,000.
Then the popularity of the raffle took off like a rocket. The total raised surpassed $50,000 in 2010, $$80,000 in 2011, and $90,000 in 2012.
So, no license was needed until 2013. Not having one is a misdemeanor, which comes with a fine of up to $1,500. The ordinance doesn’t address what the consequences are if a raffle unexpectedly raises more than $100,000, say, in mid-sale.
Proceeds from the Depot Days 50/50 raffle help to pay for the annual 4-day event, are the main support for the town’s Depot Museum, and are donated to food banks and youth organizations in Amboy and the surrounding area.
This year, Gerdes said, the event attracted about 25,000 people and about 600 cars, trucks and motorcycles to compete for awards like best engine, best interior, and best in show.
The Amboy City Council is expected to discuss adding a raffle ordinance for the city.