Cape Breton Jurek Durczak, Wikimedia Commons

Restless hearts and the thrill of the chase

  • September 24, 2015

For weekends on end now in the tiny western Cape Breton seaside community of Inverness, more and more people have been seeking a bonanza of easy money by chasing the ace.

Chase the Ace is a popular charity lottery game begun almost a year ago by the Inverness branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. The game is simple enough. Tickets are sold to win a chance to draw one card, starting with a deck of 52. If your ticket number is drawn, you win 20 per cent of that week’s ticket sales plus get one shot to draw for the ace of spades. If the ace is drawn, you win the jackpot. If not, 30 per cent of ticket sales for that week are added to the jackpot, the deck dwindles by one card and the whole process is repeated the next week.

In Inverness, weekend after weekend the ace has remained undrawn and the jackpot has hit a whopping $884,147.76 for the Sept. 26 draw. There are only six cards left. Whoever draws the ace will probably win more than a million dollars when you include the 20 per cent for having their ticket drawn in the first place.

A frenzy that has escalated by phenomenal proportions has gripped the village. The hard-living town bade farewell forever in 1958 to the coal mine that was its lifeblood. After some hard economic times, the community reinvented itself recently with the introduction of two golf resorts. But nothing could prepare the picturesque village of some 1,200 people for the phenomenon of Chase the Ace. Thousands of people have been travelling to Inverness by car, bus and even boat from Prince Edward Island to wait in lineups for hours to buy tickets for a chance at the jackpot.

“It’s been awesome,” Melinda Orkish, a jewelry maker from the other side of Cape Breton Island, told the Chronicle Herald after winning $188,206.85 by holding the winning ticket but failing to draw the ace for the Sept. 12 draw.

Having grown up near Inverness, this experience is almost indescribable, certainly unbelievable. People and vehicles line the usually deserted streets, which seem more congested with each passing week. Thousands of people jam the short distance between the legion and the arena, where the majority of tickets are sold. People gather to have a drink or a beer to bide away the hours before each draw.

Across from the arena, another group overflows into the racetrack grandstand and the track infield is packed with cars that bear Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island plates, parked at $5 a shot. Residents offer parking in their yards for $5 to $12 and others set up impromptu street-side stands selling everything from lemonade to sandwiches, water and soft drinks. Ace chasers can even pick up a t-shirt that reads “I Chased the Ace in Inverness, Nova Scotia, 2015.”

Given the social aspect of this ace hysteria, it would be presumptuous to draw a direct co-relation between ace chasers and any lack of a healthy relationship with God. There may be a void to fill here but it could be as simple as the chase for excitement, a quest for social interaction and a chance, although it seems to grow slimmer each week as the crowds escalate, of winning some money.

Many ticket holders have pooled money from family and friends, meaning the jackpot, when finally claimed, will likely be shared by several people.

Still, it’s possible that St. Augustine’s enduring quote, “Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in You,” could come into play in the Chase the Ace mania.

Augustine spoke of a longing to reach out to God, a longing that often manifests itself in a feeling that there is something missing in life, no matter how good things might be going. Driving in your car or sitting at your desk, an empty feeling that we’re missing something often sweeps over us. I can only explain it as a restlessness to be with God, the pursuit of a type of happiness and satisfaction that will always elude us in this life.

Maybe Chase the Ace is part of that pursuit, but more likely it’s just about having a little fun and friendly interaction with thousands of people, a multitude that may never again share excitement that grips tiny Inverness.

(Campbell is an editor at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax, N.S.)

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