ANSONIA — Customers at Ansonia’s Whistle Stop Bar and Grill stood to win as much as $200,000 in August, eight months after the restaurant’s third Queen of Hearts raffle got its start. Last Thursday, however, Jason Broering of St. Henry, Ohio won $580,000, as the contest went into its 46th consecutive week without a winner.
“I think we’ve been coming for the last three or four weeks,” Mary Sargent, a Whistle Stop customer who’d been playing the raffle with her sister and other family members, said in August. “I buy about ten dollars’ worth each time I come, and also buy some for my mom and so on. I know there are a couple other raffles held in local bars, but I’ve never heard of one getting this high.”
And that was then. The Whistle Stop’s two previous raffles topped out at $14,000 and $16,000, respectively. According to Whistle Stop owner Andrew Riffle, the restaurant sold around 300 tickets their first week; just recently, however, they sold a record-setting 251,000.
“We started this to try and draw attention to the bar,” Riffle said. “But obviously it’s grown into something much bigger than that.”
Parked cars lined both sides of Ohio State Route 118 from around two minutes’ drive south of the city limits, and all the way through town thereafter, Thursday night. Every side street within blocks of the main drag was packed, with only driveways and fire hydrants left unobstructed. Darke County Sheriff’s deputies in bright yellow reflective vests did their best to control the flow of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic as an estimated 25,000 souls converged on the Whistle Stop from all sides.
Those wishing to enter the Queen of Hearts raffle wrote their name and contact info on each ticket purchased, along with a number from a photocopied list. If their name, along with the number on one of their tickets, was called during one of the Whistle Stop’s many weekly drawings, a playing card bearing that number would be turned over; if the card turned out to be the Queen of Hearts, they won. Those physically present during the drawing stood to win 80 percent of the pot at that time, while those absent would only be eligible to claim 40 percent.
At around 9 p.m. Thursday night, a voice boomed over loudspeakers set up outside and across the street from the Whistle Stop. A succession of names and ticket numbers were called, with each announcee given five minutes to present himself and claim his prize. As one, then two potential winners failed to turn over the Queen of Hearts, the assembled audience cheered, still holding onto their own dreams of winning the enormous pot.
“Loooooooser!” the voice over the loudspeakers intoned as each man failed to take home the prize.
Then Broering’s name was called, the Queen of Hearts was turned over, and the throng gathered around the Whistle Stop quickly broke apart, disappointed onlookers streaming away in all directions to reclaim their abandoned vehicles.
“We want to thank the people of Ansonia,” Riffle said a few hours before the climactic event. “When you bring 20,000 people into a town of 1200, that’s obviously going to be a burden to the community.”
To help balance out that burden, Riffle said, the restaurant has donated over $400,000 to local nonprofit groups, including various sports teams, Boy and Girl Scouts, the Ansonia Fourth of July Committee, Ansonia Food Bank, and others.
“Over 25 organizations have benefitted from this,” Riffle said. “And we’ve hit most of them multiple times. It’s important to note that the Whistle Stop doesn’t make anything from this game: it all goes back to the community, and to keeping the game going. We make money because of the game, not from it.”
Broering and family remained unavailable for comment as of press time. Any remaining proceeds from the raffle that are not donated will be put toward the Whistle Stop’s next Queen of Hearts drawing in the spring.