Hotelier Peter Fedorowich started running Chase the Ace games three years ago at his small-town watering hole, hoping to drum up food sales on a Saturday afternoon.
"I just wanted to sell extra burgers and extra fries, and now it’s turned into a monster where the whole town is affected, which is not a bad problem to have," Fedorowich said when reached by phone Thursday at the Whitemouth Hotel, about 100 kilometres east of Winnipeg.
On Saturday, hundreds of people are expected to descend on Whitemouth, not only to get one of the hotel restaurant’s homestyle meals, but to taste the massive jackpot the community is serving up.
There’s one card left in the Chase the Ace game that started more than a year ago and the pot has grown to $230,000 plus change, the biggest pot the village of 400 has seen.
“It’s just a party, everybody is excited and everybody thinks they’re going to win.” -Hotelier Peter Fedorowich
Last week’s game, when just two cards remained, attracted more than 350 people to the village’s community hall, where the draws have been hosted since crowds started to exceed capacity at the Whitemouth Hotel.
The Mounties have been called in to provide crowd control and traffic management and gaming authority inspectors have visited since the jackpot exceeded $100,000.
"We have people coming from Kenora, we have people coming from Selkirk, we have people coming Pine Falls, we have people coming from Beausejour and Lac du Bonnet, Steinbach, Winnipeg. I’ve got friends coming in from Saskatchewan," Fedorowich said.
"It’s just a party, everybody is excited and everybody thinks they’re going to win."
Chase the Ace is played by first buying tickets for a draw. If your number is called, you have a chance to pick the ace of spades from a deck of cards laid face down on a board.
If the ace is not picked, the jackpot rolls forward and the draw winner goes home with a consolation prize.
A quarter of the weekly pot goes toward the Whitemouth Recreation Association, which has used the proceeds from past games to make improvements to the curling rink, outdoor rinks and the parking lot.
"This enables us to pay the bills — this is huge for the rec centre," said association president Bill Dowbyhuz. "It’s huge for the town too; the people we’re bringing in here for the hotel, the Spicy Radish restaurant, the local grocery store. Everybody is getting a piece of it."
Dowbyhuz said 40 volunteers from across the municipality support the effort and have helped rip tickets, count money and plow out three parking lots on the ball field to accommodate the increased cars. Residents have also taken the chance to pull in a little more for the village by offering a 50/50 draw in support of the Whitemouth Museum, and a canteen to raise funds to add a daycare to the local school.
Reeve Walter Amerongen said businesses in neighbouring villages Seven Sisters, River Hills, and Elma are also seeing an economic benefit from the influx of lottery hopefuls in the dead of winter, and he believes the exposure will keep people coming back through the summer.
"It’s getting the people into our community and really seeing what lies east of Winnipeg," Amerongen said.
"It’s really good to see people coming through the community, and I think for the residents it’s almost a homecoming at times, because boy you see people you haven’t seen in 40, 50 years."
As for burger sales at the Whitemouth Hotel, Fedorowich said the increase has been ten-fold.
"We introduced fried chicken here now — we were able to buy a machine, a deep fryer," Fedorowich said. "That seems to be going over well."
Danielle Da Silva
Updated on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 5:45 PM CST: adds photos, video
February 14, 2020 at 1:01 PM: clarifies that gaming authority inspectors monitor such games