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'Caught up in the frenzy:' Oilers 50/50 draw breaking ticket sale records

EDMONTON — Frenzy over the Edmonton Oilers online 50/50 draw continued Friday, with fans setting a new record total estimated pot of more than $13 million. "NEW RECORD," the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation said on Twitter.

EDMONTON — Frenzy over the Edmonton Oilers online 50/50 draw continued Friday, with fans setting a new record total estimated pot of more than $13 million.

"NEW RECORD," the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation said on Twitter. "Today's #Oilers online 50/50 presented by @REMAXca has surpassed Wednesday's total."

Late Friday the foundation announced the 50/50 was closed in order to process transactions in the queue.

"We will be posting the winning number as soon as we are able to process those transactions."

Earlier in the day the raffle's server had difficulty handling growing demand for tickets across Alberta.

The foundation held its latest game-day raffle two days after it "shattered an all-time record" and had to close it early when the server provider reached maximum allowable ticket sales.

Officials said the provider had increased its capacity by 2 1/2 times for Friday night's draw.

Ticket sales hit $2.3 million before the game even started, but many people reported on social media that they were having trouble getting through to buy tickets.

"We are working with our technology service provider Ascend to resolve (the issue)," Tim Shipton, senior vice-president of communications for the Oilers Entertainment Group, said Friday in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Demand is significantly higher than Wednesday’s raffle, which was already unprecedented territory."

The jackpot for Game 3 of the series on Wednesday grew to more than $5.4 million, with the lucky winner set to take home about $2.7 million. The prize has been claimed, but the winner's name hasn't been revealed.

Monday night's raffle for Game 2 beat the previous record for the largest sports raffle as the pot surpassed $3.2 million.

The previous record was held by Toronto Raptors basketball fans when a 50/50 raffle reached $2 million during the 2019 NBA Finals, the year the team won the championship.

Calgary Flames fans also upped their 50/50 game Thursday with a draw that brought in $1.79 million, up from about $300,000 in Tuesday's hockey game. Half of it goes to the winner and the other half goes to that team's community foundation.

Natalie Minckler, executive director of the Oilers foundation, said its service provider for the online raffle has told them Wednesday's $5.4-million draw was a world record.

She said she believes the 50/50 has captured the imaginations of Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At a time when we all really need something positive and fun to talk about, to think about, to discuss with our family and friends, I think that has become that outlet," Minckler said Thursday.

"I think it's really taken on a life of its own. People, once they see that pot growing and the opportunity to win, I think they just get caught up in the frenzy."

Shipton added that the excitement has even entered the bubble around Rogers Place.

"NHL players from around the league were fascinated and asking if they could buy tickets to the 50/50," he said. "We had to remind them that as long as they are Alberta residents they could, but if not they were out of luck."

Game 4 of the Oilers-Blackhawks series was scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m. MT. The raffle, which opened at 9 a.m., was to run until 10:30 p.m.

Shipton said it's an important game for the Oilers. The team won't go on to the playoffs if it loses.

"We're hoping that we'll win both on and off the ice," he said Thursday.

The other half of the funds raised from the raffles go to the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, which supports organizations focused on vulnerable populations in downtown Edmonton and youth sports throughout northern Alberta.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press