Listen to this article

Weigh in: Submit a letter to the editor

URBANA — Uncomfortable with the prospect of unlimited prize money following new state laws on gambling, Alderwoman Maryalice Wu has called for the city to update its code with a cap on the amount of money someone can win in a raffle.

Wu said during Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting that she understands that the city must update its code based on the new gambling laws that came into effect July 1, but “one thing I did notice is that one of the items the Legislature changes is eliminating the requirement for a limit,” meaning the city doesn’t have to set one but could “if we chose.”

Janice McAteer, spokeswoman for Developmental Services Center, told aldermen that the agency is one of several in C-U trying to start a Queen of Hearts raffle in an effort to raise funds. Under the new state rules, her agency and most other nonprofits are allowed to raise money through raffles, a welcome alternative to traditional and often time-consuming fundraising methods.

“Fundraisers are so labor- and staff-intensive,” McAteer said. “This gives us more flexibility to not have as much staff and time consumed to raise money, and hopefully, this has a good return for us.”

Wu said her reservation is that the flexibility given by the new laws could open the door to abuse.

“It leaves the door wide open,” said Wu, who advocated for a prize limit of $1 million. “People can form non-for-profits and do stuff. I don’t want anyone with nefarious plans to take advantage of our community.”

But placing a limit won’t do much, said city legal staff member Curtis Borman.

“Putting a limit on that won’t stop raffle sales in the city,” Borman said. “They’re allowed to sell statewide, so all an organization needs is to get a license from someplace else, like Champaign or Chicago. The only limitation that would be placed is that you need an Urbana raffle license if you’re going to be drawing the winners in Urbana.”

And placing a limit could also hurt a local bar or restaurant’s opportunity to get customers in the door on slow days, something Wu admitted following Monday’s meeting.

“They won’t get a cut,” Wu said. “They’re not getting any money from the raffle, but what they do get is business. People come in and buy food and drinks, so I don’t want to cut off business by any means by putting these limits in.”

Still, Wu and others on the council will wait on city staff to report back with ways other municipalities in the region are dealing with the issue, and whether they will be placing limits. That discussion will continue at next Monday’s council meeting.

In other business, the city is seeking public input on whether it should impose a local tax of up to 3 percent on recreational cannabis sales after it becomes legal in January.

Discussion on the issue will begin at the Aug. 26 council meeting, but Mayor Diane Marlin has asked the public to provide comments at next Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting. She said the conversation will also continue during the Sept. 3 council meeting, the same month the Illinois Department of Revenue is asking municipalities to submit a memo advising them of their intention to tax — or not tax — recreational cannabis sales.