Chase the Ace fever has taken over Goulds, but locals say they want their town back

It's all fun and games, until someone loses a town.

Biggest-ever Chase the Ace in N.L., but 'who knows' what will happen if ace isn't drawn by start of school

A crowd of ace chasers sit on the lawn outside St. Kevin's Parish in the Goulds neighbourhood of St. John's, awaiting Wednesday night's draw. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

It's all fun and games, until someone loses a town.

For people in the Goulds neighbourhood of St. John's, being swept up in the fervour of a Chase the Ace fundraiser — the jackpot of which reached $1.4 million and became Newfoundland and Labrador's largest-ever Chase the Ace — has been fun, but they're ready for it to be over.

"I want it to end now," said Val Smith, who lives just down the road from St. Kevin's Parish, where — since October — a Chase the Ace fundraiser has steadily grown.

Val Smith lives down the road from St. Kevin's Parish in Goulds and has been playing Chase the Ace since before Christmas, but she's ready for it to be over. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

"A lot of the locals are starting to feel the effect. It's great for the businesses, but we want our town back. We also want the ace. But, you know, what are you going to do?"

We hope it goes before school opens.- Carol O'Brien

Smith lined up early Wednesday morning in the pouring rain to get her ticket.

It's a game she's been playing since before Christmas, and the sheer volume of people is now a massive change from what the fundraiser once was.

People line up at the tables to buy tickets for the Chase the Ace draw on Aug. 10. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

"I like the atmosphere that's down here, but, you know, before school starts I hope somebody wins it," said Smith. "My daughter goes here. So, I mean, it's time to have the school back for kids."

The province's English school district said it is aware of the fundraiser's close proximity to schools in the area. 

The district said board members have discussed the matter with event organizers and Service NL and said it is committed to ensuring the safety of students and staff, as well as making sure school instruction is not disrupted.

'Fingers crossed'

Since St. Kevin's Parish is right next door to St. Kevin's School, worries about school starting up in a few weeks also play on the minds of fundraiser organizers.

"We hope it goes before school opens. And if it doesn't, then we got to come up with some kind of another plan," said Carol O'Brien, one of the event organizers.

Carol O'Brien says Chase the Ace in Goulds has become a well-oiled machine, and she and other organizers have heard good things from plenty of people in the public. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

"We're just hoping; fingers crossed. We've got four weeks now before school opens, we're down to 11 cards [10 after Wednesday night's draw]. So the odds are getting better that someone is going to pick it."

Those other plans aren't set in stone, and there are a number of options on the table.

Provincial legislation has an established exit strategy protocol for fundraising events that have grown beyond a "capacity to continue."

The government provided licence numbers Thursday, showing that Goulds is the biggest jackpot ever reached for a Chase the Ace fundraiser here.

Hoping for the ace

Previously, the largest was in Bay de Verde in 2016, followed by one in McIvers earlier that year.

So far in 2017, there have been 283 Chase the Ace licences issued.

The previous year that number was 171. For 2015, it was 102 — and in 2014 just two licences were issued.

A box of cash being dumped out to purchase Chase the Ace tickets in Goulds on Wednesday evening. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

O'Brien said organizers have looked into some options about what they can do if the ace refuses to be drawn before school starts, and the crowds continue to grow, but wouldn't commit to anything just yet.

"We've had several scenarios presented to us, but right now we haven't picked on anything specific. But they're all in the back of our minds and we're looking around maybe for a different location, maybe a different night," she said.

"But who knows? Like I said, that's in the future and we're hoping that all this is going to just naturally play out and go before school opens."

With files from Zach Goudie and Terry Roberts