Brad Slugoski pointed to the middle of three remaining cards. When it was flipped over, he raised his hands to his hat, threw back his head, took a deep breath and let out a four-letter word in relief as the crowd cheered.
The Flin Flon, Manitoba, man was the winner of $1,009,870 after a 16-month Chase the Ace game in The Pas that drew so many people it had to be moved from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 19 to the larger Roy H. Johnston Arena.
In Chase the Ace one ticket is drawn by the legion weekly. The ticket winner gets to come up and choose a card and, if they draw the Ace of Hearts, get the pot.
If the person doesn't choose the ace, they win 15 per cent of that week's ticket sales. Half of the proceeds are added to the pot, and the other 35 per cent is donated to various local charities, said legion branch manager Linda Kuhl.
For Slugoski, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.
"August 1, I will be retired," he said, ending a nearly 40-year career at HudBay Mining.
The windfall was unexpected for one other person as well, said Slugoski — the winning ticket was actually a shared ticket with his brother-in-law, Ken Vincent, who is also from Flin Flon and about to retire.
"When we got home last night, we went to his house at about one o'clock in the morning. They stayed up and we met and we were hugging and kissing," he said.
Feeling of calm
Slugoski said his wife was so nervous she "couldn't even look" as he walked up onto the stage to try and pick the ace for $1 million, but says he was "pretty calm, I couldn't believe it."
"I was thinking all the time, I'm going to take the middle one, I'm going to take the middle one."
When the card was flipped by Kuhl and showed the Ace of Hearts, Slugoski said he was overwhelmed.
"I was shaking … When I got shown the video, I said 'Oh my god, I said the 'F' word, I'm upset with myself,'" he laughed.
Time to start again
"It was a great night," said Kuhl, but while everyone was happy for Slugoski and disappointed it wasn't them, Kuhl described the overwhelming feeling as one of relief.
"Everybody is happy [the pot] is gone," she said. "There have been people … that have been coming in every weekend."
People began arriving outside the hockey arena before the 10 a.m. official lineup time, and there was a bit of a mad dash when that line was finally opened, said Kuhl. But once 1,000 people had filled the arena, people warmed up and settled down, she said.
"It was not a very pleasant day, the wind was very cold," said Kuhl. "I give the crowd that have been attending our event just so much credit for their stamina and perseverance."
This round of the game started Jan. 7, 2017, with a $65,000 pot. When it hit $200,000, that's when people really started to take notice, said Kuhl.
It's likely Chase the Ace will be back in September with an even bigger starter pot, said Kuhl.
"In September of 2016 we gave away $207,000," she said. For the upcoming draw, the pot will start at over $220,000, she said.
Slugoski said, since he won, his "iPad and our phones are going crazy with everybody congratulating us."
He and his wife, Donna, plan to pay off their mortgage and take a trip to the East Coast with their share of the winnings, as well as enjoy retirement.
"It's a dream come true."