The luckiest place in B.C.? It's 50/50

The tiny village of Burns Lake has become a hot spot for 50/50 lottery sales after someone noticed there are more winning tickets per person bought there than any other place in B.C.

The north central B.C. village has been racking up lottery wins and fuelling a buying frenzy

Brian Davidson, who buys the occasional B.C. 50/50 ticket himself, has been watching the lottery wins mount in Burns Lake. (Christer Waara/CBC )

There's a hot streak in Burns Lake that's posing a burning question for Brian Davidson.

Why are so many people winning the B.C. 50/50 draw in that tiny north central B.C. town? Some claim to have won it multiple times.

"It's kinda crazy," said Davidson, 55. "I thought, well, what the heck is going on up there?"

Davidson, who lives in Abbotsford, has been blogging about Burns Lake's winning ways and started noticing something odd on the B.C. Lottery website two years ago. And the trend has continued.

Burns Lake residents have been consistently hitting it big when it comes to the province's 50/50 lottery.

How big?

They appear to be winning more than 100 times more often than statistics say they should.

The B.C. 50/50 lottery has four daily draws and smaller payouts, but there's a guaranteed winner from the tickets sold. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Davidson calculates the town of approximately 2,000 people won a total of almost $200,000 on the BC 50/50 lottery last year alone. That's about $100 per person.

But is everyone in Burns Lake sharing in the jackpot? Or have a handful of people unlocked the secret to the 50/50 lottery?

It's called 50/50, but the odds vary

The B.C. 50/50 doesn't mean you have a 50-50 chance of winning — just that half of the pot goes into B.C. Lottery corporation revenues and half goes to the winner.

It doesn't have huge jackpots, but there's a guaranteed winner for each of four daily draws, because a BCLC computer picks from the tickets sold.

You can buy one chance for a dollar, or get 15 chances for $10. The lottery corporation says the odds of winning depend on how many people enter each draw.

The average payout appears to between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

So why is Burns Lake raking in so many of those payouts?

'Some of them are winning, like, 15, 16 times'

The Burns Lake Husky convenience store claims to have sold the most B.C. 50/50 winning tickets in the province — and the sheer volume surprises retail manager Kanwaljeet Singh as much as it surprises Davidson.

"We are really amazed to see this kind of winning thing every time," said Singh, 29. "Some of them won three of four times. Some of them are winning like 15, 16 times. Mostly it's different people."

The convenience store at the Burns Lake Husky gas station claims to have sold more winning tickets for the B.C. 50/50 than anywhere else in the province. (Google)

He declined to put the CBC in touch with any of the winners for privacy reasons.

Neither would Clayton Charlie at the rival Sne C'al Yegh gas bar and convenience store, just up the road on the Carrier First Nation — even though Charlie just had a winner.

In fact, Charlie says he himself won $3,900 a year ago. And he knows someone who has won 22 times.

That's not a typo. Twenty-two times.

"He's a working man. He's a good man," said Charlie, 39. "Just been luckier than most I guess."

Luck is a word that gets mentioned a lot in Burns Lake.

One minute up Highway 16, there's a third hotspot to buy winning 50/50 tickets — the Rainbow gas bar. The manager says word is spreading to tourists who stop there, one third of the way from Prince George to Prince Rupert.

"They are thinking Burns Lake is the luckiest hotspot in B.C.," saId Sara Tibbetts.

But then Tibbetts says something that starts to shed a little light on what's behind the winning streak.

"I'm going to say more tickets are being purchased in Burns Lake."

Spending big to win big

At the Husky, Singh says 150 to 200 people come in to buy 50/50 tickets — every day.

"It's reality, right? I mean if you're playing more, you're winning more. That's how it works, I guess."

He says some customers are spending big in hopes of winning big.

"We have people working in the [saw]mills and all that. They have money," said Singh. "You won't believe [it]. We have regular customers [spending] $100 every day."

Singh says a kind of lottery mania is fuelling the ticket-buying frenzy.

"If I play lotteries, and I'm winning, obviously my friends are gonna try too, right?" said Singh.

BCLC bursts the Burns Lake lucky bubble with one cold, hard, pointy fact.

"[In 2017], Burns Lake contributed to 4.4 percent of overall B.C. 50/50 draws," writes a BCLC spokesperson. "Tickets purchased in Burns Lake represent 4.9 percent of overall B.C. 50/50 wins."

In other words, Burns Lake is winning in proportion to what it buys.

It's just buying a lot.

'It's not sustainable'

Davidson isn't disappointed the Burns Lake winning streak might simply be people buying their own luck.

He thinks what they're really buying is a fantasy. Players will ultimately never break even.

"These things catch up with you eventually," said Davidson. "Because if you're going to win back two-thirds or three- quarters of your money, it's not sustainable."

Still, he says the infatuation with 50/50 is spreading.

"Pemberton is taking up the ball now," said Davidson, referring to the community north of Whistler. "They're starting to win all the time, too. Maybe people up there are starting to do the same thing."

In Burns Lake, Clayton Charlie says there's no sign of people getting off the 50/50 bandwagon.

"It's been like this for the past two or three years, so I don't see it stoppin'," said Charlie.

"If my dog could buy some tickets, she probably would too."

With files from Manjula Dufresne 

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.