Ashley Beckwith, of Greenwood, was the winner of the Nova Scotia Firefighters 50/50 draw held New Year’s Eve. To date, Beckwith has taken home the largest prize in the weekly fundraiser now supporting more than 225 fire departments or related agencies in the province.

Raissa Tetanish

Tatamagouche Light

Hub Now

AMHERST: What started as a way for one fire department raising funds to support local causes has since turned into one of the largest online 50/50 draws across Canada.

The weekly Nova Scotia Firefighters 50/50 draw has grown in the past seven months, to the point where 227 fire departments and non-profit organizations that regularly support fire departments participate.

Along with the West Bay Road Volunteer Fire Department, which purchased a 3,000 gallon 2020 Freightliner pumper truck, the Antigonish County Volunteer Fire Department ordered eight sets of bunker gear.

The Amherst Fire Fighter’s Association administers the draw, which gave away more than $230,000 on New Year’s Eve. Ashley Beckwith, of Greenwood, won that week’s draw.

“The Amherst Fire Fighter’s Association donates a lot of money back into the community,” said Andy Wallis, one of the organizers of the draw. “As an association, we were challenged last fall to find a way to bring in more money. Our rentals have been down, Bingos have decreased…people just don’t party the way they used to.”

When the association members started looking into a 50/50 draw, they knew they didn’t want to compete with other draws in their community, including one that supports the Amherst Jr. A Ramblers hockey team. The association also thought about a lottery similar to 6/49, with printed tickets.

“Then COVID hit and it forced us, just as everyone as a population, to become more familiar with ordering online,” said Wallis.

The online raffle platform Rafflebox approached the association with the possibility of piloting its program in Nova Scotia. Wallis said the association agreed, as long as they were the only fire department in the province operating an online draw on the platform, but departments were able to participate in the raffle.

“We started with eight departments and now we’re up to 227. Now we’re making money for our association, as well as other departments and agencies. It was the right platform to come along, and because of COVID we had a captive audience,” Wallis said.

To operate, the raffle has to abide by rules set out by the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Division. One lottery licence has been issued – to the association – and those departments or agencies wishing to participate have to submit a form through the association, which then goes to Alcohol and Gaming for approval.

Ticket buyers must be 19 years or older, and a resident of Nova Scotia. Supporting documents for residency include a valid driver’s license or ID issued by the province.

Each week, participants can choose the number of tickets to purchase online. If the credit or debit card being used isn’t associated with a valid Nova Scotia postal code, Wallis says the transaction won’t be completed.

“We started with about 10,000 tickets, then went to 30,000, then 80,000. We sold 570,000 tickets (last week),” he said, of the New Year’s Eve draw. “Leading up to the holidays, we thought we’d see a dip in sales but it was the exact opposite. I think it was in part because it was a Christmas Eve draw. Then New Year’s Eve was ever larger.”

When buying tickets, people can choose which participating department or organization they’d like to support. Some of the other organizations include the Nova Scotia Fire School, Nova Scotia Firefighters Burn Treatment Society, and even the Nova Scotia Firefighters Benevolent Fund.

Fifty per cent of the jackpot each week goes to the ticket holder of the winning number. Thirty-five per cent gets divided among the selling departments based on their respective ticket sales. The remaining 15 per cent is used for expenses, administration, fees, and taxes.

“All of the fire departments have been very appreciative,” said Wallis. “For a lot of them, this is their only fundraiser going into 2021. A lot of the departments are making more with this fundraiser than they have through three years of breakfasts.”

Wallis says a lot of departments have been taking to social media – where the bulk of the raffle advertising is done – to let their supporters now how they’re spending the funds they receive.

Some are using it for renovations to their halls or trucks, some are purchasing specialty equipment for their firefighters, and some are giving back to the community.

Because the raffle has become so popular, Wallis says the association had to move away from printing ticket numbers.

“The printing was overwhelming,” he said about when they reached sales of about 80,000 tickets. “We also couldn’t manage that many tickets in our drum.”

Now, the association uses a series of numbered ping pong balls. They start with the highest numbered ticket and make their way to the lowest to make sure all numbers are included. The winning number is then created from the ping pong balls.

Draws are typically held on Thursdays at 9 p.m., with earlier draw times for those that fell on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

“We are one of Rafflebox’s largest customers, and they think we could be the largest 50/50 draw in Canada,” said Wallis. “We are in their top three largest jackpots.”

For more information on the raffle, or to get tickets, visit www.firefighters5050.com or follow the Nova Scotia Firefighters 50/50 page on Facebook.