Chase for the Ace going strong

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Volunteer Evellyn Coleman sells Chase the Ace tickets on Aug. 19 at the Ptarmigan Inn.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Volunteer Evellyn Coleman sells Chase the Ace tickets on Aug. 19 at the Ptarmigan Inn.

It seems Hay River has a new favourite game – chasing one elusive card.

The Chase the Ace fundraiser, which was launched in January by the Hay River Curling Club, is still going strong, and creating more excitement each Friday evening as the main jackpot and weekly prizes keep climbing.

On Aug. 19, the holder of the winning ticket was Jodie Gauthier of Edson, Alta., who was in town to visit her sister.

Gauthier, who said it was a group ticket, automatically won the weekly prize of $6,946.

But if she had drawn the ace of spades out of a box containing 21 cards remaining in the deck, she would have won the $67,029 jackpot. Instead, she drew the four of spades.

“I was nervous,” said Gauthier of making the draw. “I was really nervous.”

There was so much excitement from everybody in the Dog House Sports Bar at the Ptarmigan Inn, she said. “Everybody cheered me on. It was awesome.”

On Aug. 19, there was $34,730 in ticket sales at the Ptarmigan Inn, where the draw is usually held. People crowd into the bar, the restaurant, downstairs conference rooms and even outside waiting for the draw.

The winning ticket holder automatically earns someone 20 per cent of the weekly sales and a chance to draw for the jackpot, which grows by 30 per cent of the weekly sales until it is won.

The ticket holder has to be present to draw for the ace of spades.

However, the real winner in the contest is the Hay River Curling Club, which takes 50 per cent of the weekly sales.

After the Aug. 19 draw, the curling club will have made a total of more than $100,000 from the contest, said Glenn Smith, the chair of a fundraising committee with the organization.

Smith said Chase the Ace has exceeded the club’s expectations in how much it has raised.

“When we first started it, we certainly budgeted for a lot less just in case because you never know,” he said. “I’d say, yes, we’re going further than we anticipated.”

Smith said the club is beating the odds a little bit by going so far into the 52-card deck without the ace of spades being drawn, and sales have been higher than expected.

On Aug. 26, there will be 20 cards left.

There is little doubt what is attracting about 250 people each week to Chase the Ace.

“It’s such a big jackpot,” said Shari Burnstad, who was at Chase the Ace for the first time on Aug. 19. “It’s better odds than the lottery, and I play the lottery every week.”

Darren McKay said he was one of about 40 people from Fort Resolution who drove to Hay River on Aug. 19 for the draw.

“It would be nice to win,” said McKay, who was at the draw for the fourth time.

Of course, Smith also recognizes the appeal of the growing jackpot.

“Certainly, it has an ability to make money,” he said. “The attractiveness for people right now, of course, is it’s a progressive pot.”

However, he also likes the social aspect of Chase the Ace, because it attracts a couple of hundred people each week.

“As much as it’s just about cash, there is an element of social benefit I think when you see all these people out and they’re having a good time and some excitement, and cheering during the draws,” he said.

Perhaps surprisingly, Smith would not be disappointed if the jackpot is won soon.

“I guess the more we can raise the better, but at the same time it’s been carrying on for quite some time now,” he said. “It’s taking up a lot of my Fridays and the volunteers’ Fridays. So the administration certainly grows with it.”

In fact, he said he would be happy if somebody wins the main prize.

“Let’s get someone some money and we’ll move on,” he said. “And the next organization will take out a licence and see what they can do with it.”

The game, which has sometimes become a craze in Atlantic Canada, was launched on Jan. 15 by the Hay River Curling Club.

It is the first time it has been held in Hay River.

It was a Chase the Ace game in Inuvik in 2012 – which raised $30,000 for the Royal Canadian Legion – which inspired the game in Nova Scotia.

And it was in Atlantic Canada that the game reached amazing heights in the past few years. There, one jackpot reached $1.7 million and another $209,000.

Smith predicted that, if the deck got down to a few cards in Hay River, the jackpot would be at least $150,000.

–Paul Bickford