50/50 frenzy: why Edmonton is so obsessed with playing the odds

Click to play video: 'Edmonton embraces 50/50 lotteries like no other city' Edmonton embraces 50/50 lotteries like no other city
WATCH ABOVE: Many Eskimos fans will be buying 50/50 tickets at the team's home opener on Friday night. As Quinn Ohler reports, the lotteries are particularly popular in Edmonton and serve to benefit more than just the jackpot winners – Jun 30, 2017

It’s an Edmonton phenomenon. We love our 50/50 lotteries.

The CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos organization describes it as a snowball effect: as the total take-home number on the big screen rises at Eskimos games, more and more people get in line to buy their 50/50 tickets.

READ MORE: Couple wins $336K Edmonton Oilers 50/50 jackpot

“In eastern Canada, it doesn’t come close to the excitement and the thrill 50/50 brings to Edmonton,” Edmonton Eskimos president and CEO Len Rhodes — who came to Alberta’s capital in 2011 from the global operations of Reebok-CCM Hockey — said recently.

“We have the best results throughout the country,” Rhodes said with a smile. “Other teams are watching and copying what we do. That’s the best flattery of all when people do what you’re doing because it works.”

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READ MORE: Show me the money! Edmonton Oilers fans embrace 50/50 ‘phenomenon’

The Eskimos also hold a record in the league for highest payout. In July 2014, more than 40,000 people attended a game at Commonwealth Stadium, and many stood in long lines for a chance to get their hands on the enormous $348,534 prize.

Edmonton Eskimos President & CEO Len Rhodes posing with 20-year-old Connor Croken, winner of the record $348,534 50/50 jackpot.Friday, July 25, 2014.
Edmonton Eskimos President & CEO Len Rhodes posing with 20-year-old Connor Croken, winner of the record $348,534 50/50 jackpot.Friday, July 25, 2014. Supplied by Edmonton Eskimos

It was a 20-year-old Edmonton man, Connor Croken, who took home the prize.

READ MORE: Meet the 20-year-old who won the Eskimos’ 50/50 jackpot

“I’ll never forget the day,” he told Global News outside of Commonwealth Stadium earlier this week.”I was in shock, total shock. I didn’t believe it that’s for sure.”

Croken said he was originally going to use the money to buy a boat.

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“I screwed my thinking cap on and went with a house,” he said, adding some of the money also went into investments.

READ MORE: ‘We were just overwhelmed’: Eskimos official on 50/50 response

Those who take home the prize at the end of the game aren’t the only winners either.

The other half goes to local football organizations, including the Edmonton Huskies Football Club.

“Without 50/50, our club doesn’t operate,” said Iain MacLean, the Huskies’ head coach.

The Huskies use the funds for travel, operational expenses and equipment. They also use it to help with other fundraising efforts that support post-secondary scholarships for players.

“It funds our base operating for our entire team, for what we use to survive,” MacLean said.

“If it wasn’t for the support and the amazing relationship we have with the Edmonton Eskimos, our team wouldn’t exist.”

In 2016, the Huskies organization collected about $225,000 from the Eskimos.

The Eskimos also support the Edmonton Wildcats, the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Football Alberta. The teams supply volunteers to run 50/50 on game days.

“As a professional sport, we feel the health is predicated on kids who play the game,” Rhodes said. “So we are playing a role to help kids get into the game.”

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The Eskimos president and CEO said it’s always special when he gets to hand over the winning cheque.

“I always ask, ‘How many tickets did you buy? What are you going to do with your money? Do you realize it’s tax-free?’ And, ‘I hope you buy me a beer when you see me on the concourse one day,'” he laughed.

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