Sydney surrenders to Chase the Ace madness as jackpot brushes $2M
SYDNEY, N.S. -- It's the talk of the town: Thousands of people are expected to descend on Sydney, N.S., on Saturday seeking what is believed to be the largest Chase the Ace jackpot yet.
Police have ramped up staffing, and restaurants have called in additional staff to handle the influx of people in a city of roughly 30,000.
The top prize is expected to exceed $1.9 million.
"It's definitely taken over the city," said Brianne Walsh, manager of the Boston Pizza in Sydney, which will be live-streaming the draw.
Event organizer Stephen Tobin said busloads of Chase the Ace hopefuls from as far away as Montreal have been travelling to Cape Breton in recent weeks as weekly draws failed to turn up a grand prize winner.
"We know that there's people coming from all over not only Cape Breton Island, but Atlantic Canada and in some cases, even across the country," said Tobin in a phone interview on Friday.
Tobin said last Saturday, about 66,000 curious viewers from Fort McMurray, Alta., to Jamaica tuned into the live-stream of the all-day event, which takes place at nine official venues including the city's largest hockey arena.
He said the live-stream has prompted many Cape Bretoners to host Chase the Ace parties in their kitchens and living rooms, while others opt to hang around the various venues, gabbing over drinks and playing cards to pass the time until the draw.
"It's really more than just a lottery here -- it's a social event," said Tobin, adding that the jackpot has been building for about 45 weeks, with only seven cards remaining in the deck.
"It's an opportunity for people to spend time with family, friends and neighbours, supporting two great causes with an opportunity win a lot of money all at the same time."
Chase the Ace is like a 50-50 draw in which players buy numbered tickets for about $5 each.
The winner gets a percentage of the total ticket sales -- which is expected to top $300,000 on Saturday -- and a bigger jackpot if they pull the ace of spades from a deck of cards that gets smaller with each successive draw.
Draws have been held across the Maritimes in recent years to varying success -- some lost money for their charities while others that lingered for months saw entire towns shut down for a night.
John MacDonald, executive director of the province's gaming division, said his agency is putting together a "best practices" guide for licencees, and will have staff onsite Saturday to monitor the draw.
"This current event ΓÇª. has reached an unprecedented size and prize value in Nova Scotia," said MacDonald.
Walsh said her Boston Pizza had to stop taking reservations on Saturdays as they grapple with dozens of people lining up outside, eager to congregate with friends and catch the live-stream airing on the restaurant's televisions.
She said many people will stay for hours, proudly displaying their Chase the Ace tickets at their tables.
"Everyone's sitting here waiting for the draw to happen and it's definitely an exciting time," said Walsh, who expects to fill her restaurant's 200 seats well before Saturday's draw around 7 p.m.
Proceeds of the lottery are split between the Ashby legion and the Horizon Achievement Centre, a Sydney-based vocational training and employment service centre for adults with mental disabilities.
Donelda MacAskill, who won a $1.7 million Chase the Ace jackpot in Inverness last fall, said the social and charitable aspects of the lottery are what entice thousands to participate.
"The sponsoring organizations, they're using the money to improve our communities," said MacAskill in a recent interview, adding that she has bought tickets for the Sydney Chase the Ace since it started last spring.
"At the draw, everyone is happy. You're meeting a lot of new people and it's just a really good atmosphere."
Shannon Kerr, a spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Police, said they will be ramping up patrols this weekend, with officers stationed at each venue.
Tobin said when the winning ticket is announced on Saturday, the ticket holder will have 25 minutes to identify themselves at one of the nine Chase the Ace venues.
Once verified, they'll head to the Ashby legion to draw a card from the deck.