When Chase the Ace resumes at the Annapolis Royal fire hall on March 6, the owner of the ticket drawn stands to win almost a quarter of a million dollars.
Firefighter Matt Smith, who has helped organize the fire department fundraiser for 47 weeks, said he never thought it would get this far.
“Not even remotely. We thought when we started this if we could make $20 or $25,000 that would be our ultimate goal,” he said. “You know, something that we could go and buy something small for the fire hall … we had no idea we would get to where we are now.”
If the ace of spades is drawn March 6, Smith could give away an estimated $208,000 jackpot plus 20 per cent of that week’s ticket sales. With only five cards left in the deck, the odds of that happening are high.
Smith remembers when there were 52 cards in the deck, and ticket sales weren’t breaking any records.
“The very first draw that we had we had seven people in the crowd at the fire hall. We had sold in the vicinity of 1,500 tickets the first week,” he said. “So we fast forward to this past week (Feb. 20) and we sold a little over 80,000 tickets, we had several hundred people at the fire hall, and almost 2,000 people watching live on our Facebook feed.”
To date, the fundraiser has given away about $122,000.
The runaway fundraiser is attracting fans from all over as people tune in on Facebook Live every week.
“We’re getting comments from these people all over North America,” he said. “We even had somebody from New Zealand back in the fall watching and we’ve had them from the lower States and all over Canada watching.”
Some of those people are getting friends and family members to purchase tickets for them, which is fine, but the department has handled many inquiries about people buying tickets online from the department, but provincial Alcohol and Gaming regulations don’t permit that.
“These last few weeks the intensity has really, really risen,” said Smith. “You can feel it with the players and you can feel it with the firemen. The biggest thing is that we’re in a position right now where we’re going to be giving somebody a life-changing amount of money.”
Part of that intensity, for Smith at least, is getting it right every week. In the by-the-book system they have in place they inventory every ticket that leaves the hall and inventory them as they come back in on Wednesday. And the number of tickets has to match the money.
Because of the amount of money involved now, the fire department has hired members of the Annapolis Royal Police Department to act as security during Wednesday evening’s ticket count and the 9:15 p.m. draw.
“Our No. 1 goal is maintaining the integrity of this program right to the very end with total transparency,” he said. “We feel it’s important for (people) to know that everything is done the right way and to the very best of our abilities, that’s for sure.”
“It’s a full-time job right now, which is the reason why we’ve switched to two weeks - the only reason why,” Smith said. “It was very important for us to get that out on our Facebook page and get it out to the crowd. Our entire department has invested all our resources into this because of the workload that’s involved.”
As much as Smith and his fellow firefighters enjoy it, and as much as it’s become very beneficial to the fire department, they’re looking at the end with a bit of relief.
“We’d like to get back to some sense of normalcy around here,” he said. “Back to our regular trainings and all that stuff.”
Smith said community support has been tremendous.
“We’ve always felt very supported by this community before Chase the Ace, but a lot of people enjoy playing Chase the Ace because there’s the aspect of them potentially winning money, but it’s also a way to support the fire hall, which is something they find very easy to do. We get that comment made to us very often from the community.”
Wednesday evenings have become a big night in Annapolis Royal because of Chase the Ace. Switching to every second week for the draw leaves a bit of a void.
“It’s become a social night for a lot of people,” Smith said. “We have a strong core of people who have basically attended from Day 1 and enjoyed coming out and seeing people in their community, talking to people in their community. And in the winter months in our small town it’s a way for people to get out in a social-type setting.”
Tickets can be bought at Tom’s Pizzeria in Lequille, Lequille Country Store, Annapolis Royal Home Hardware, Double D Convenience Store in Granville Ferry, Crows Nest Dining in Hillsburn, Josie’s in Digby, and Nob’s Farm Market in Bridgetown. Or at the fire hall starting at 9 a.m. the day of the draw.
Did you know?
While the ace wasn’t drawn at the Feb. 20 Chase the Ace in Annapolis Royal, the person whose ticket was drawn walked away with $16,020. The jackpot was worth $184,143.42.
You don’t have to be at the fire hall to win. Firefighter Matt Smith will call you and the draw can be made over the phone. The Jan. 23 draw was made while the winner was watching a Bryan Adams concert in Halifax.