Top News

Russell Wangersky: Who wants to live in a house of cards?

Up to 100,000 could buy tickets today for the final draw in the Goulds Chase the Ace.
Up to 100,000 could buy tickets today for the final draw in the Goulds Chase the Ace.

It’s September, the gambling juggernaut has finally left the Goulds, the cool bite of fall air hangs in the bright morning sun, and the wind brings a heavy, constant smell of cooked turnip from the industrial park hospital kitchen. And now, can we sit down and have a serious talk about Chase the Ace?

Russell Wangersky

During the hype, there wasn’t any real way to say this without sounding like a grumpy old killjoy, but maybe it’s time to make the draw in the Goulds the last one, and stop the whole thing. No more aces, no more chases.

Why?

Well, a bunch of reasons.

First off, as fundraisers go, it’s a hit-or-miss prospect. If you’re using it to fund a fixed, planned expenditure, it’s a little like firing a shotgun into a spruce thicket and hoping for rabbits. You might get several, you might get nothing. Just about the only guarantee is that, if there’s anything there and you hit it, you’ll get a share. It’s like 50/50 draws in that respect; as long as your draw is staffed by volunteers, you’ll get a constant skim of something.

Will you reach your goal? Maybe. And if you don’t, if the ace is drawn too soon, it’s back to the drawing board.

Still, the draws have become constant. Head out Veterans Memorial Highway towards Carbonear, and you’ll run into a ragged parade of roadside signs nailed to the guardrail posts. They advertise a Chase the Ace in Harbour Grace that may be long over; I don’t know, but the signs live on. Any number of light-up signs in front of rural convenience stores advertise the tickets, without ever explaining the tongue-in-cheek comedy of it all: if you’re lucky enough to win a draw in a massive game of chance, you win … a draw in a smaller game of chance. Hurray!

But back to the Goulds, and the $2.6 million draw that ended up packing a small town so tight with people that it looked like it came close to bursting.

Throughout the process, I talked to ordinary people who found fistfuls of cash to buy fistfuls of tickets. The draw has been the talk of offices and grocery stores, the constant drip-drip-drip of television and radio anchor banter. Did you get your ticket? Did you? Did you?

Did people spend money they couldn’t afford to spend? Of course they did. Did the news media play a role in building a ridiculous amount of hype? Of course we did. Turning it into a play-by-play event, with breathless reporting on the length of lines and the risk of tickets running out, we were barkers for the carnival sideshow.

But normalizing and promoting gambling is not without a cost. I heard from a number of people, recovering gamblers fighting their own personal battles, that the ubiquitous coverage has a cost, making it even harder to get through a day without relapsing into gambling.

Here’s just one: “I can only imagine how many paycheques, social assistance, old age, unemployment cheques, etc. have been used for Chase the illusive Ace. Mortgages, vehicle loans, rent, groceries, back to school items, are not being paid or purchased.”

Does the hype have an effect? Of course it does, even on the strongest of wills.

My mother constantly spoke of lotteries as a tax on the poor, but even she crumbled under the trio of pressures of a big prize, insistent neighbours who all had tickets, and pressure from ticket sellers for a national lottery in Spain. (What made it even more of a comedy is that she didn’t have enough Spanish to even know if she’d won anything in the draw, and never did find out.) But if she could crack, so could anyone.

I honestly feel for those who fight the urge to gamble every single day, and wonder about the latest normalization; video lottery machines supposedly need so much regulation they have to be in licensed premises to keep them away from kids (though the truth is that having them where there’s liquor probably greatly increases the take).

Yet a charitable draw becomes a festival, centred around a massive game of chance.

But even with the evils aside, as a way to effectively raise a set amount of money for charitable purposes, it’s boom or bust. Like Goldilocks looking for a bed, it’s either too big or too small. The cash is also essentially unregulated, once raised and, as we’ve seen in Bay de Verde, can be sources of controversy, recrimination, blame and then audits.

I think it’s time to wind them up. For good.

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

 

 

Recent Stories