With the move to online fundraising, some Southwestern Ontario charities are making — and giving out — more money than imaginable.
An unexpected trend spurred by the pandemic, virtual 50/50 draws are pumping out massive jackpot prizes across the region.
A recent draw organized by the firefighter association in Bothwell and Thamesville, southwest of London, left one lucky couple with more than $280,000.
It was enough to let them pay off their mortgage, said Brian Carroll, chief of Station 9 Chatham-Kent Fire Service.
He said within days, the $25,000 payout skyrocketed to more than half a million, the largest jackpot in Chatham-Kent to date.
So, how did Bothwell, a town of about 400, and Thamesville, which has a population of nearly 2,000, manage to raise that kind of money?
Apparently, Carroll said, social media and several last-minute bids.
"It just took off," he said. "It had to be social media at the end. That (last day) was just crazy. Every minute there was a sale."
He said a large portion of the bids were made by regular patrons at the Bothwell Old Auto Show, where the town typically holds 50/50 draws.
Nixed by the pandemic, the paper-based raffle turned digital, with ticket buyers from Windsor to as far as Wawa, a township in northwest Ontario. Donations are distributed to several area charities, such as youth groups or burn units, Carroll said.
It was a similar story last year in Glencoe, southwest of London, when a draw organized by the town's agricultural society saw its guaranteed payout of $1,000 skyrocket to $360,000.
The formula behind the win-win deal is simple. Half of the ticket revenue collected from the 50/50 draw is given to the winning ticket-holder, and the other half goes to the charity.
Organizations with prizes of more than $50,000 are required to obtain a licence from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which regulates and oversees all electronic raffles by charities. More than 750 electronic raffle licenses, which take in 50/50 draws, have been issued since April 2020, a spokesperson for the commission said.
A growing avenue for fundraising during the last two years, online 50/50 draws may be here to stay, said Kirk Arends, vice-president of operations in charitable gaming at Canadian Bank Note Co. Ltd., which supplies businesses, charities and non-profits with digital raffle technology.
"There will be an expectation for these draws to continue online," Arends said.
"We're creatures of habit, and once you start regularly buying for these types of draws, you'll miss it when it's gone. You'll be wondering, 'where'd it go?' It would make sense for those not-for-profits to continue with it, in addition to having the regular annual golf tournaments, galas and silent auctions."
Arends said many organizations, from agricultural societies to legions and hospitals, are hosting raffles every month.
That's certainly the case at Imperial Theatre in Sarnia, whose prize total soared to a $3.3 million during the past year, with nearly $1.7 million in prize money given to recipients during five straight months.
"We had no real source of income, and we had started renovations prior to being shut down, so we needed to find a way to raise funds to continue the renovations while we were forced to be closed," said Brian Austin Jr., executive director of the theatre.
"It really is something that I feel the community has rallied behind … We are probably like five or six years ahead on our capital projects now because of the success of this."
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press