Woman wins ‘ace’ jackpot

The Canadian Press
Michael MacDonald

INVERNESS, N.S.—A wildly-popular fundraising game that attracted tens of thousands of people to a tiny Cape Breton town in recent weeks came to a climactic end Saturday when a $1.7-million jackpot was awarded to a retired woman and her ailing husband.
Donelda MacAskill, from Englishtown, N.S., won the grand prize in the “Chase the Ace” game of chance when she found the ace of spades among the three playing cards that remained after a series of weekly draws that started in Inverness 48 weeks ago.
The game grew in popularity across the region as the jackpot steadily expanded and word spread about the event’s raucous, kitchen-party atmosphere.
MacAskill, who used to run a tour boat company, was shaking when she pulled the winning card from a table in front of about 2,500 people at the local hockey arena.
When she spotted the ace, she promptly dropped the card—and the crowd let loose with a deafening roar.
Afterwards, MacAskill said she was on her way home from one of the ticket-selling venues on the north end of town when she realized her ticket had been called.
But the road to the arena, where the draw was held, was blocked with cars.
“I had to leave the car and run, and I don’t run well,” the 62-year-old said after accepting her ceremonial cheque.
She said she had no firm plans for how she and her husband, John, will spend the money. However, she said the funds will be helpful for her husband, who recently underwent treatment for cancer.
The couple has three grown sons.
“You don’t play with the thought of winning,” MacAskill said when asked what she planned to do next.
“I really didn’t think I was going to win,” she admitted. “That’s why I was on the side of the road, ready to head for home.”
As for the event in Inverness, she noted: “I did enjoy it. It’s like a carnival atmosphere.”
The RCMP said about 25,000 people and about 4,000 cars were expected to descend on the town of 1,300 on Saturday—clogging the town’s streets and raising concerns among emergency officials worried about access to anyone in distress.
Lineups for tickets were long at the Royal Canadian Legion, the local hockey arena, and an outdoor concert venue known as Broad Cove, where MacAskill bought $125 worth of tickets.
Inside the arena, a local rock band performed before former premier Rodney MacDonald took the stage, fiddle in hand, to entertain with a long set of traditional jigs and reels.
Many ticket-holders could be seen signing their names on stacks of colourful tickets while others simply sat with their neighbours and gabbed as the music played on.
“Chase the Ace” is like a 50-50 draw in that players buy numbered tickets for $5 each.
The winner of that draw gets 20 percent of the total ticket sales that day and a chance to win a growing jackpot by finding the ace of spades in a deck of 52 playing cards that gets smaller with each successive draw.
Every Saturday since last October, half of the money raised was split between the two organization behind the draw: the Legion and the Inverness Cottage Workshop, which provides skills training for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Another 20 percent was set aside for the weekly winner and 30 percent for the jackpot.
The two organizations are expected to split more than $2 million, though the final number has yet to account for expenses.