End is nigh for Goulds Chase the Ace, as draw enters Week 44

When it started in October 2016 it would have been hard to believe that an event involving a deck of cards and a parish hall would become one of the most talked-about stories nearly a year later.

Exit strategy in play for event that has reached biblical proportions, with guaranteed win of at least $2M

The Chase the Ace crowd Aug. 23 was enormous. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

When it started in October 2016 it would have been hard to believe that one of the most talked-about stories nearly a year later would involve a deck of cards, a parish hall and a part of St. John's known as the Goulds.

After an improbable Chase the Ace run of biblical proportions, St. Kevin's parish will write a cheque for more than $2 million to a lucky soul on Wednesday night.

"Excited, kind of disappointed that it's all going to be over," said Carol O'Brien, chair of the St. Kevin's finance committee, and the face of Chase the Ace.

"It's been such a big part of all the community's lives now since October, more so now the last couple of months."

Carol O'Brien, the face of chase the ace, says she can't go anywhere these days without being recognized. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The St. Kevin's Chase the Ace started modestly and grew slowly.

Its was late June when the CBC first showed up to the weekly Wednesday night event and the jackpot sat at $447,700. Winner Wanda Lawrence didn't choose the ace of spades, but instead walked away with a consolation prize of $46,983.

We may as well finish off with a bang.- Carol O'Brien

In July, when the jackpot grew to just shy of $600,000, Gouldigan Martin Hefferman was the lucky one to have his ticket picked from a rotating barrel but he couldn't find the ace either, and left with a cheque for $66,805.

With the Chase the Ace pot of gold growing, statistician Jayde Eustace looked into the odds. With just as many cards remaining as guests at the Last Supper, you had a one in 1.1 million chance to win.

The math didn't slow down crowds, and lineups grew.

Statistician Jayde Eustace showed us how the odds stack up in the Chase the Ace game in the Goulds in early July. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

On July 12 the 50/50 and consolation prize exceeded $100,000. Cindy Casey had her number pulled and she missed the ace but still won $110,000. Back then the jackpot sat at around $750,000.

With a million-dollar grand prize well in sight, the Goulds became the hottest spot on the Avalon Peninsula with tens of thousands of people showing up.

The folks at St. Kevin's parish brought in porta-potties, sports groups started selling food and drink to raise cash, and police, security — even a Brinks truck — became common sights. 

Duplicate drama

Crowds continued to grow, pushing the jackpot to unheard of levels, but on July 19, there were no winners, losers or even a draw.

Service NL, which oversees lotteries, had to step in and put a stop to the biggest show in St. John's. Turns out there had been multiple tickets printed with the same number.

A printing error resulted in tickets with the same number, which delayed one draw in July. (Twitter)

An investigation was launched, and Service NL Minister Perry Trimper held a press conference to deal with fallout from "Dupligate."

With the event growing into a weekly festival, organizers decided to forgo selling tickets on July 26 and just draw from the previous week's sales.

At this point the jackpot was $1,135,323. The little church fundraiser that could steamed forward as Courtney Noseworthy failed to find the ace of spades. For her loss she got $172,368.

It seemed like nothing could stop Chase the Ace in the Goulds, until the greatest card game in Newfoundland and Labrador happened to coincide with the 199th running of the Royal St. John's Regatta. People hoping to become the province's newest millionaire had to wait a fortnight for the next draw. 

The Wednesday lineups were legendary in Goulds as the number of cards declined. (Jen White/CBC)

With 11 cards left 42 weeks in, the prize stood at $1,580,000.

On Aug. 9 a group of 11 won the draw but, again, the ace was missed. The consolation prize was $185,014. The 50/50, rising faster than the water Noah had built an ark to avoid, was $247,513.

The ace chase became the topic of conversation — in coffee shops, at dinner parties, in the change room at local gyms.

Aug. 16 came and went with no winner. The coffers of the church were now overflowing, it seemed, with the grand prize an unbelievable $1.7 million.

A box of cash is dumped out to purchase Chase the Ace tickets. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

The following week, Julie Labour-Mitchell drew the king of clubs and won more than a quarter of a million dollars. The 50/50, which is half of the money pulled in on Aug. 23, landed a cheque for $348,095 in the lap of Judy Moss.

With fall on the horizon and children about to descend on the school, located next to the parish hall, organizers and Service NL staff decided to use an exit strategy.

New signs let ticket buyers know that Aug. 30 is the last night. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

On Wednesday night, Chase the Ace will run until the ace of spades is picked.

If the first person called doesn't get it, they walk with the full consolation prize. If the next number picked doesn't flip the ace they get $25,000 and so on and so on until someone picks a card that has broken more hearts than sit in the deck.

When Pope John Paul II came to St. John's, about 40,000 people turned out to see His Holiness. More than 70,000 people are expected to descend on Goulds Wednesday.

"We may as well finish off with a bang. This is our 44th week and we figure if we are going to go, we are going to go blazing," said organizer Carol O'Brien.

With files from Zach Goudie, Ryan Cooke, Stephanie Tobin and Ariana Kelland