An anonymous Illinois woman is now very wealthy after winning a $7 million raffle at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the city of McHenry on Tuesday night.
“Lori S.” was the grand prize winner of the McHenry VFW Post 4600 Queen of Hearts jackpot that had grown over two years and sparked a frenzy of ticket buying in recent weeks. Her take-home winnings will be about $2.8 million.
McHenry, about 55 miles northwest of Chicago, is normally a sleepy place, but on Tuesday night the VFW hall felt like a carnival as a crowd packed it for the drawing.
This tiny vfw has been transformed into something like a county fair. There’s funnel cake for sale —VFW jerseys too. Hearing lots of chatter about what folks will do when they are a multimillionaire pic.twitter.com/QBKBtTnWBK— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) September 18, 2018
This was no ordinary raffle: the pot had been growing as it rolled over for nearly two years. McHenry officials had to vote multiple times to raise the city’s raffle prize limit to accommodate the Queen of Hearts.
In the hours before the drawing, hopeful millionaires at the VFW hall dreamed of what they would do with the money. John Kondor said he spends his days making plastic injection molds.
But he dreams of a beach in Fiji.
“Laying on a blanket, watching the sand and the surf, man,” he said. “Grab my boogie board, man.” Denise Colles, a resident of McHenry, said she’d been playing the raffle for weeks, and had a specific plan for how to spend the prize money.
I entered! I could use the money, but more importantly winning would give me a hell of a twist pic.twitter.com/oeLxiW5N0r— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) September 19, 2018
“I’m going to open up my doggy party store,” she said.
“I want to open up a store to give dogs parties for their birthdays. And a spa where they can get their nails trimmed. That’s what I want to do with my money. Plus I want to feed the homeless.”
Some of the people in attendance didn’t mention business plans or vacation ideas. Their goal is to be debt free — a dream as far away as a trip to Aruba for some.
It’s surprising to me that almost everyone’s l answer to how they would spend the money is to pay off bills. Lots of folks don’t have any answer past that— being debt free already feels like a faraway dream— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) September 19, 2018
Inside the VFW hall, about 2.5 million paper tickets filled a huge steel container.
Stirring the pot pic.twitter.com/oS8B2RsWXl— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) September 19, 2018
The hundreds of people packed into the room quieted down as the first ticket was pulled and checked for authenticity. It was bought by someone named John.
“As always, John gets 100 dollars,” said announcer Dwayne Lundgren of Post 4600. “And…..nothing else.”
Each draw by McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett was accompanied by cheers and clapping from everyone who was still in the running.
A second and third ticket got pulled, but still no grand prize winner.
Then, a ticket for a woman identified only as “Lori S.” was pulled out. She matched the queen of hearts card. The crowd erupted and sprayed McHenry VFW Senior Vice Cmdr. Ben Keefe with silly string as he held up the card.
“THERE SHE IS!” This is the moment when the winning ticket was drawn in the Queen of Hearts Raffle. Someone became a millionaire Tuesday night…https://t.co/XyHlr3dUE8 @WGNNews pic.twitter.com/FIHsLQYrGK— Melissa Espana (@MLEspana) September 19, 2018
After taking a second to get over their excitement — and maybe disappointment — everyone in the hall looked around for Lori S. But she wasn’t anywhere to be found. Her phone’s area code, 708, covers parts of Cook and Will counties, but that’s about all the crowd knew. Lundgren called her to deliver the good news.
“After I told her, there was that silence on that other side. And you could tell that she started….I told her to settle down,” said Lundgren. When asked whether the new multi-millionaire said what she intends to do with the money, Lundgren didn’t know.
“Like I said, she was still kind of overwhelmed,” he said. After taxes and payment to the VFW, will take home about 60 percent of the jackpot. She had 24 hours to claim her winnings.
The VFW’s bar stayed open after the raffle — offering some consolation for everyone who didn’t win the money they needed to get to an exotic beach or buy a new house or pay off student loans. But Lundgren said there’s always another chance: the next raffle with 54 new tickets begins January 8.
Lorie S is a millionaire. For everyone else this fantasy bubble has burst. Next raffle starts in January pic.twitter.com/21uNChjN37— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) September 19, 2018
Miles Bryan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him @miles_bryan.