'Here we go again': Alberta's 50/50 fever turns to outrage as online ticket sales stall

Even if the Edmonton Oilers lose during Friday’s series-deciding game against the Chicago Blackhawks, one Alberta fan can dry their tears on a heaping pile of cold, hard cash. 

Website issues Friday stall ticket sales after previous raffle shatters all-time record

With a victory Friday Chicago, the bottom-seeded Western Conference team, can knock out the fifth-seeded Oilers. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Even if the Edmonton Oilers are eliminated during Friday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks, one Alberta fan can dry their tears on a heaping pile of cold, hard cash. 

The odds of winning, however, are growing slimmer by the minute as the  frenzy over the team's online 50/50 draw continues.

The club's community foundation's game-day raffle opened at 9 a.m. and within the first 15 minutes, the pot had hit $6,000 and the website for ticket sales started to glitch.

By noon, the pot reached nearly $400,000 but many fans eager to test their luck and buy in were met with error messages. 

'My phone almost had a flying lesson'

But the struggle to buy tickets is very real for many Albertans. 

Travis Purdy's first attempt was at 10:40 a.m. As of 12:30 p.m., the 46-year-old had been unable to get the website to co-operate.

The Spruce Grove resident was using six different devices at once including his phone, a laptop, a tablet and an Xbox gaming console. 

"My laptop has almost had a flying lesson. My phone almost had a flying lesson," he said.  "It's frustrating."

There are probably thousands of others like me right now because the numbers aren't climbing- Travis Purdy

Purdy said the servers appear to have been pushed past capacity. He wonders whether the raffle is becoming a victim of its own success. 

And he suspects the jackpot is not as big as it should be. 

"I'm watching the numbers and thinking there are probably thousands of others like me right now because the numbers aren't climbing anywhere near like they were on Wednesday," he said. 

"On Wednesday, I was watching numbers and it seemed like every minute the total was jumping by $10,000 and today it's lucky if it's jumping by $1,000 a minute."

Purdy temporarily paused his interview with CBC News thinking he had finally got tickets after an hour and 45-minute wait, only to get another error message. 

"Wow, wow," he said, gasping and shaking his head.  "It locked up again. Here we go again. I've got to start over." 

The moment where Travis Purdy got yet another error message on the Edmonton Oilers 50/50 website while he was sure he had finally secured tickets after trying for almost two hours. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The excitement over the online draws has been unprecedented. Wednesday's raffle shattered an all-time record and had to close early after it reached the server provider's maximum allowable ticket sales.

The pot maxed out at around $5.4 million six hours before the game even started.

The winner took home $2,708,565. The rest will support charities with the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. 

Officials say the provider has increased capacity by 2½ times for today's draw, which is set to run until 10:30 p.m.

"The expectation is — although Oilers fans have proven they can shatter all expectations — that the server will have the capacity to handle demand," Tim Shipton, senior vice-president of communications for the Oilers Entertainment Group, said Thursday.

Lynn Wells has been trying to snag tickets since first thing this morning with no luck. She woke up just before 9 a.m., put her Oilers gear on and grabbed all of her electronic devices. 

She said fighting with the website has been ordeal which will likely occupy the rest of her day. 

"I'm going to let my husband know there's going to be no supper or no house-cleaning done or laundry," she said.

"My kid is going to be in her PJs when he comes home from work because this is what I plan on doing for the rest of the day. Skip the Dishes might be the only other thing I use my phone for."   

Wells refuses to give up, saying the money would change her life. 

"I would want to wake up and just be debt free and live in a house and not make a payment on anything," she said.   

"I think if I buy tickets, I'm not going to hate the person who wins as much." 

Gambling researcher Fiona Nicoll isn't surprised at the 50/50 fever. The doldrums of a pandemic summer are pushing people to test their luck, she said. 

"I look at social qualities of gambling, things that aren't just about winning or losing or being addicted but why it is that gambling can bring communities together," she said. 

The author of Gambling in Everyday Life: Spaces, Moments and Products of Enjoyment and the Alberta Gambling Research Institute Chair in Gambling Policy at the University of Alberta, Nicoll said playing the odds is particularly attractive during the boredom and isolation caused by COVID-19.

In a hockey town like Edmonton, buying into a charitable gamble can make people feel a sense of community.

"Often, when we think about responsible gambling, we think about individual gamblers but actually, we often gamble as members of groups and communities and I think the 50/50 story about the Oilers is very much a part of that,"  Nicoll said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Nicoll said the Oilers are intertwined with the culture and economy of the city and Edmontonians are passionate about the team.

The raffle gives fans forced to watch the games from afar a way to participate in the action. 

And with half the proceeds going to charity, gambler's guilt is kept to a minimum.

"I think 50/50 is really interesting because they're partly gambling, in the sense that you buy a ticket and you have a hope that you may win a prize, but you're also investing in a charity or cause," she said. 

"There is a sense of hope and investment." 

For those who win the jackpot, the money will be life-changing, Nicoll said. For some winners, more money means more problems. 

"It can make an enormous change and it's not always for the better but it depends," she said. 

"Those really large prizes are going to be transformational, they really affect the relationships that people have with those around them."

Everyone will react differently to that influx of cash, she said.

Some winners will want to hoard their money under a mattress. Others may decide to burn through their winnings and leave it all behind for a sandy beach somewhere. 

"Some people will want to go to work and gloat and other people will want to have a stern conversation with their boss."

Sales break records

Monday night's raffle for Game 2 beat the previous record for the largest sports raffle as the pot surpassed $3.2 million.

The previous record was held by Toronto Raptors fans when a 50/50 raffle reached $2 million during the 2019 NBA Finals, the year the team won the championship.

Calgary Flames fans also upped their 50/50 game Thursday with a draw that brought in $1.79 million, up from about $300,000 in Tuesday's game. Half of it goes to the winner and the other half goes to that team's community foundation.

Natalie Minckler, executive director of the Oilers foundation, said its service provider for the online raffle has told them Wednesday's $5.4-million draw was a world record.

She said she believes the 50/50 has captured the imaginations of Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At a time when we all really need something positive and fun to talk about, to think about, to discuss with our family and friends, I think that has become that outlet," said Minckler.

With a Friday victory Chicago, the bottom-seeded Western Conference team, could knock out the fifth-seeded Oilers.

The game begins at 4:45 MT. 

With files from The Canadian Press


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