Every few weeks in the news, an Ohio bar, restaurant or pub announces that someone has won hundreds of thousands of dollars in a “Queen of Hearts” game, as that specific type of playing card games have come to be known.
Most of us understand that the Ohio lottery, Powerball and Mega-Millions lottery games are allowed because money earned is given to schools. We recognize that charitable and religious organizations can manage and earn money from games of chance, such as Bingo.
Similarly, we Ohioans recently had to literally amend the State Constitution to allow for the operation of a few casinos in our state.
Typically, games of chance are not lawful. However, if there is skill associated with the chance, such as fantasy sports leagues, the games of chance can be lawful, as we have seen with various states legalizing some sports betting.
Thus, are these Queen of Hearts games illegal?
First, it is important to understand how this particular game works. Essentially, a “manager” of the game blindly places each playing card of a deck of cards into individual, sealed envelopes that are numbered. Each playing card is assigned a monetary value, usually with the Queen of Hearts having a value of all (or almost all) of the pot of money that has been paid for tickets since the game’s inception.
Each week (or other regular interval), people can pay a certain amount (often a dollar) to select a number and print that number on a ticket. The tickets are shuffled, and a ticket with its number printed thereon is chosen at each regular interval. The envelope corresponding with that number is opened by the manager. The ticket purchaser then receives the monetary value assigned to that playing card.
Obviously, bars, restaurants and pubs that host the games do not require the purchase of food or beverages in order to otherwise participate in Queen of Hearts games. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to expect that many people who arrive to purchase tickets from the managing bar, restaurant or pub or who appear in-person to see if they won the drawing will voluntarily decide to spend some money while present.
Thus, Queen of Hearts games are games of complete chance. Logically, therefore, they would typically be considered illegal. However, Ohio law allows for games of chance if the operator/manager of the game literally makes no money whatsoever on the game, among other requirements. This is a key component of the legality of most Queen of Hearts games in Ohio.
About a year ago, the Ohio Attorney General clarified a list of requirements for Queen of Hearts games to be lawful. The games must be organized and thoughtfully and meticulously planned. The games must be played according to the rules. The game players must give money or other value to play. And, the entire amounts paid to play must be distributed to players without the manager receiving even a penny of the pot in exchange for management of the game.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.