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Edmonton Oilers’ virtual 50/50 draw shatters record for largest sports raffle

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation sells 50/50 tickets at Friday's Oilers watch party at Rogers Place, April 28, 2017.
The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation sells 50/50 tickets at Friday's Oilers watch party at Rogers Place, April 28, 2017. Global News

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation’s 50/50 raffle surpassed $3.2 million on Monday night, setting a new record for sports raffle fundraisers.

The Oilers beat out the $2-million record set by the Toronto Raptors fans in the 2019 NBA Finals.

When it comes to the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks previously held the record, with a $1.4-million sale benefiting Canucks for Kids.

In Edmonton, the winner of Sunday’s pot — who has not yet been announced — will take home more than $1.6 million.

For EOCF’s executive director, Natalie Minckler, the interest in the new online 50/50 during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of impressive.

“It’s overwhelming. I’m almost speechless,” she said. “We’re thrilled, we’re surprised, we’re shocked, we’re humbled.”

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Season-ticket holder Brad Bartko is superstitious about buying 50/50 tickets. For him, that purchase is synonymous with watching hockey.

“We’ve been going to games for 20-plus years and it’s always been a tradition — grab a 50/50 on the way to the seats,” he said.

Bartko said his family and friends even have a system, with each of them buying from a 50/50 vendor in a different part of the arena to try and increase their odds of success.

With fans at home during the pandemic, the process has become virtual.

“I think online’s made it easier, I think online’s made it better. It’s all of Alberta, so anybody can purchase a ticket,” Bartko said.

And that interest sure has been piqued. During the 2019-2020 season, the combined jackpot from 38 home games was $5.8 million.

Now, in just two Stanley Cup qualifiers, fans have spent more than $4 million on 50/50 tickets.

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers obliterate organization’s 50/50 draw record with over $3M in sales Monday night

The transition online hasn’t been a smooth ride, however. Many fans took to social media to voice concerns about the site crashing, and being unable to buy tickets.

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The process improved from Game 1 to Game 2, however, Ryan Kendall spent almost the entire game refreshing his phone before he finally managed to get in on the odds. He said the process was painful.

“If I’m getting froze out, how many other people are getting froze out?” he asked. “[Planning on] spending $50, $100, $200. How much more could that pot have been had there not been so many glitches?”

The issue is simply demand, according to the CEO of Ascend Fundraising Solutions, the company behind the online sales.

Daniel Lewis said at peak points Monday evening, including the hour before puck-drop, fans were purchasing $150,000 worth of tickets every 10 minutes.

“As we start to see that these volumes are something that we’ve never experienced before, we’ve been adding more server capacity as aggressively as we can,” he explained.

He noted part of the issue is a rule in Alberta that states the servers must be hosted locally.

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READ MORE: West Kelowna man wins $700K in Canucks’ 50-50 raffle

“I expect in the next 12 months, the Edmonton Oilers Foundation is going to crack $5 million,” Lewis said.

He’s hopeful the process will improve with each game, allowing for additional ticket sales.

As for those wanting to get in on the action, Minckler has a word of advice.

“Don’t wait,” she said. “If you are interested in buying a 50/50 ticket, our sales open at 9 a.m.”