Editorial: Cutting the deck

Published on September 27, 2016

McIvers Chase the Ace

©Dave White

It was only a matter of time before the penny dropped on Chase the Ace, and a provincial government started looking for its cut.

The fundraiser has become popular because, often, it’s big money: On Sept. 22, a New Brunswick draw saw a $1.3-million prize awarded in the town of Dalhousie — the money will go to help fund recreation improvements.

In the Newfoundland and Labrador town of McIvers, Josh Nash drew the ace of spades, and took home a check for $725,913 to split with five partners in the draw. In that case, the draw was being held by the Come Home Committee, which estimates it will take in more than $1 million, before expenses.

In Bay de Verde, NL, the grand prize was $733,000, split between nine people.

The list goes on: in West Pubnico, N.S., a Chase the Ace draw stands at more than $240,000. A Sydney, N.S. draw in May saw Kathy McPherson draw the ace of spades for $2.9 million. Almost a year ago, Donalda MacAskill won $1.7 million drawing the ace in Inverness, N.S., splitting the prize with a friend living in P.E.I.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars go to the winners, and as jackpots grow, the fundraisers can become wildly successful.

For most lotteries in the Atlantic region, though, there’s another winner.

The region’s four provincial governments hold a virtual monopoly on gambling in those provinces, and reap a healthy return through the Atlantic Lottery Corp. It’s a return that all of the provinces have come to depend on as part of general revenues. The governments may occasionally make noises about the addictive dangers of video lottery terminals and other kinds of gambling, but in reality, they’re whispering about it all the way to the bank.

Now, suddenly, millions of gambling dollars are walking right past lottery ticket kiosks and VLTs. It comes at a time when lottery officials are trying to figure out how to attract new customers as their regular clientele ages: millennials, it seems, have other places to take their gambling dollars.

In the $1.3-million Chase the Ace win in New Brunswick, the provincial government landed just $25 — the cost of purchasing the charitable lottery permit.

“As this game continues to grow in popularity, we are observing and developing best practices,” New Brunswick Public Safety spokesman Paul Bradley said in an emailed statement to CBC New Brunswick last Friday. “We are currently working to broaden our rules to specifically address Chase the Ace raffles.”

The New Brunswick government has said it’s too early to outline just what those “best practices” will be. It may involve either a higher permit fee or the government taking a set share of the winnings.

One thing’s for certain: if one of the Atlantic governments starts chasing the ace for extra dollars, all of the others will eventually follow — because no one loves gambling as much as a cash-strapped provincial government.