Six-figure jackpots and swamped volunteers: Chase the Ace lotteries cause ‘pandemonium’ across Manitoba
Wednesdays at 1 p.m. may not be considered a prime time viewing slot in most circles, but a wildly popular fundraiser in Brandon, Man. has made it must-see TV.
That’s when Brandon Seniors for Seniors Co-op Inc. does its annual Smack the Jack draw, airing live on their local community channel.
The reason for its popularity – the jackpot is just over $150,000. Unsurprisingly, ticket sales have exploded in popularity.
“It’s got to a point where we’re virtually selling out of tickets every week, so we we’ve been offering people to be able to purchase tickets online through an e-transfer,” Brandon Seniors for Seniors Board President Don Kostesky told CTV News Winnipeg.
“The volunteers, we’ve had to limit the time that they can ask for tickets because the volunteers have been going flat out trying to keep up to demand.”
Smack the Jack is the non-profit’s own spin on a Chase the Ace-style raffle. How it works – there are 54 numbered envelopes on a board, each containing a playing card from a full 52 deck, plus two Jokers.
When a ticket is sold each week, the buyer chooses an envelope they want opened if their ticket is picked.
Then on Smack the Jack day, a ticket is drawn during a live broadcast at the Westman Communications’ studio and the envelope number indicated on the ticket is opened. If the jack of spades is inside, the person who purchased the winning ticket takes home the grand prize.
If the right jack is not found, the fundraiser continues for another week, with the remaining envelopes still in play and the pot rising even higher.
The pot in Brandon Seniors for Seniors Co-op Inc.’s Smack the Jack lottery is up to $150,000. (Source: Brandon Seniors for Seniors Co-op Inc./Facebook)
The non-profit launched its Smack the Jack game in October. The first winner was drawn weeks later. They went home with $9,500.
The pot reset and since then, the jack has not been drawn.
Twenty-five per cent of sales go back to the organization. It’s been a vital fundraiser, as the organization relies solely on grants and donations.
“This will go a long way to supporting all those programs that we provide here for seniors,” he said.
LEGIONS RELYING ON CHASE THE ACE LOTTOS FOR FINANCIAL BOOST
In St. Laurent, Man., Saturdays can be spent standing in a crowded, spill-over hall to watch the community’s Chase the Ace draw at the Royal Canadian Legion Métis Branch No. 250.
Up for grabs this week – nearly $29,000 in cash, one of the highest Manitoba legion pots currently in play through a Chase the Ace-style raffle.
It too has been a financial boon for the local legion. It launched the lottery four years ago, at a time when the non-profit was struggling financially.
“It was hard to make money with the legion,” said past president Randy Smith.
“The bingo had kind of dropped in popularity, and people just weren’t coming out as much to support the legion as they had been at one time, so we needed to do something new.”
Last spring, the grand prize got as high as $141,000, and the draw came down to the very last envelope.
Hoards of people lined up outside the Royal Canadian Legion Métis Branch No. 250 in St. Laurent Man, when its Chase the Ace pot was up to $145,000 last spring. (Source: Marion Lorraine Furey)
It was all hands on deck for volunteers to keep up with the popularity. They brought in a video camera, a TV and a sound system so hopeful ticket holders who couldn’t get a seat in the bar could watch Smith emcee from an adjacent hallway.
“It was pandemonium,” he said.
A similar scene could be found last month at a legion about 530 kilometres northwest in The Pas. After three years without the elusory ace of hearts being pulled, the pot had grown to nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
Like in St. Laurent, it came down to the last card.
But that was nothing compared to 2018, when that legion’s pot ballooned to $1 million.
“It kind of went huge because we had to move to the arena. I mean, there was lineups from the night before at the arena,” recalled Angie Nikolychuk, president of Royal Canadian Legion Brach No. 19.
RAFFLE-STYLE FUNDRAISERS REBOUNDING SINCE PANDEMIC
It’s difficult to peg exactly how popular Chase the Ace-style fundraisers have become in Manitoba. The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba (LGCA) issues licenses to non-profits to run these types of lotteries. They are operated under a charitable raffle license, and records don’t differentiate what kind of game is being run, and can include player’s choice raffles and calendar raffles, as well as the popular Chase the Ace-style game.
Still, figures from the LGCA’s annual report show the number of these licenses issued in 2021/22 spiked.
That year’s report shows there were 332 licensed raffle events leading to $40.35 million in gross revenue. That’s up from the year before, when 241 events were run, totalling nearly $10 million less in revenue.
“We can confirm that the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority (LGCA) has seen applications for charitable raffles rebound since the removal of pandemic health restrictions,” a LGCA spokesperson said in an email.
Proceeds from the Royal Canadian Legion Métis Branch No. 250 in St. Laurent, Man. have helped finance the organization’s expenses and the sponsorship of local sports teams, like Lakeside Minor Hockey. (Source: Marion Lorraine Furey/Facebook)
Back in St. Laurent, Man., Smith said proceeds from their Chase the Ace have kept legion operations going, and funded the hiring of more staff, community parks and local sports teams.
“Apparently, there’s so many of them that the poor inspectors for the province are so busy trying to keep up with them all,” he said.
“It’s a privilege to have. The legion really enjoys the privilege, and it’s really saved a lot of legions and other institutions.”
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