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Russell Wangersky: Troubleshooting ace-chasing and other charitable pursuits

When the Inverness Chase the Ace jackpot hit a six-figure jackpot, organizers were forced to open up the community arena to some of the thousands of people who descended on community during the game’s final draws in the summer and fall of 2015.
When the Inverness Chase the Ace jackpot hit a six-figure jackpot, organizers were forced to open up the community arena to some of the thousands of people who descended on community during the game’s final draws in the summer and fall of 2015.

“So you’ve decided to Chase the Ace …” You know, I really think there’s a place in the market for a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”-style handbook for the latest in charity efforts.

Russell Wangersky

I’m thinking of a book for organizing committees, for volunteer fire departments, police forces, town councils, and the list goes on — not only for starting out, but for the possibility that your draw goes big.

The concept of Chase the Ace is simple enough: at first, it’s just plain playing cards, accurate tickets, and a jackpot that grows every week that someone doesn’t pick a particular ace from a narrowing deck of cards. All’s well and good until the size of the jackpot — and human greed — swell to unreasonable proportions.

And the prizes have been growing.

This Wednesday, in the Goulds, just outside St. John’s, the ace being chased is going to be worth a million bucks or more.

In Meteghan, N.S., the town’s fire department will see its next draw on Wednesday at more than $350,000, while in Clyde River, N.S., the River Hills Golf and Country Club draw on the 19th will be over $390,000. The Clyde River draw has grown from a small organizing committee to over 80 volunteers.

In McIvers, N.L., the town’s come-home year committee raised more than $900,000 before the ace was found and someone won $750,000 last September. Similar draws in Cape Breton saw prizes of $1.6 million in January and $2.9 million in May 2016. In Lameque, N.B., what started as a parish fundraiser ended up handing over $3.9 million to three people who had pooled their resources to buy tickets this June.

It’s getting so big that provincial governments have toyed with the idea of finding some way to share in the funds raised. Right now, their only share of the gambling win is the collection of a paltry gaming licence fee, small potatoes for governments used to owning gambling outright.

You can’t drive on an Atlantic highway without eventually running into ads for someone’s unfound ace, but the big ones have a gravitational field so large they are creating their own issues.

In the Goulds, local cellphone suppliers have had to beef up the communications infrastructure to keep it from imploding. Satellite ticket offices have had to be opened, roads have been closed, additional police officers put in place and the list goes on. Making money is now costing money.

Strategically, if your ticket is drawn, in most of the games you have to be present, or at least be close enough to be able to claim the right to draw a card. It’s gridlock before that ticket is drawn, and mass exodus afterwards.

As things scale up, small groups of volunteers suddenly have to deal with huge organization challenges — like what you do if a misprint means more than one ticket has the same unique draw number, something that happened in the Goulds already, and has happened with other chased aces as well.

It would be a help, I’m sure, if they knew the things they had to keep in mind.

And also, perhaps, what can happen afterwards: Bay de Verde’s Chase the Ace handed out a prize of $730,000, raised more than a million dollars for the parish, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put off — and has since reportedly divided the parish over concerns about how the money was being spent. Other committees, exhausted by the full-scale effort involved, have had this to say about the draw — “Never again.”

Didn’t see that coming?

Others have lived it. More could learn from it.

A Chase the Ace handbook might be just the thing.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in more than 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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