Thursday night at the Royal Canadian Legion has become a phenomenon.
Not long ago, perhaps 20 people would share a drink over a game of trivia and head home by 6:30 p.m.
As many as 500 people now line up outside the Sarnia Legion hall each week, hoping for a chance to win the wildly popular Chase the Ace raffle.
The jackpot currently stands just shy of $26,000.
Tickets have sold out for months now, forcing the Legion for safety reasons to limit the number of people trying to pack the building.
Branch 62 President Jim Burgess said it’s astonishing to see so many waiting to get in to buy tickets.
“This is the most successful fundraiser in our history,” he said.
Since September, Chase the Ace, a progressive multi-draw raffle, has generated enough revenue for Branch 62 to donate $20,000 to its various causes.
“That’s more than we‘d give in a whole year normally,” said Burgess. “It’s an immense boost for our charities and it’s bringing in new members.”
About 50 people who had never stepped foot in the Legion before have joined Branch 62 and helped bolster a membership that had plummeted over the past two decades.
“This is the biggest thing we’ve had going, ever,” said Les Jones, a Branch 62 board member who helps run Chase the Ace.
“I show up around 2:30 p.m. on Thursdays and I have to park blocks away,” he said. “We’re filling up both our banquet hall and our club room.”
Each week, one ticket holder wins several hundred dollars when his or her number is drawn. They also get a chance to win the jackpot by picking an envelope with a playing card inside. If the ace of spades isn’t picked, the pot grows and the contest continues the following week.
This is week 45 and the excitement is building.
Ticket sales have been strong since the second round. Initially, about 100 people were showing up Thursdays to buy the $2 tickets. Rules say no one can buy more than two and only 960 tickets are sold each night.
The numbers grew rapidly and, as the pot increased, so did the lineups. The cut off is 480 inside the Legion, Jones said. “We have to turn people away.”
The bars in both halls are busy and generating revenue. Proceeds from Catch the Ace support veterans and a myriad of youth-oriented and seniors’ causes. Bar sales help maintain the Legion building.
The increase in beer and liquor sales is helping keep the doors open, said Burgess.
“The writing was on the wall that this building would be too expensive for us to maintain,” he said. “It’s not like it was in the 1970s when our membership was around 2,000.”
Veterans are passing away and, like so many service clubs, the Legion has financial challenges. Chase the Ace is easing the load, keeping the hall busy and has helped raise membership to around 500.
It’s no longer necessary to be a veteran or be related to a veteran to become a member, noted Burgess. Anyone can join.
Chase the Ace has given the Legion exposure it hasn’t had years, Jones added.
“It’s just tremendous.”