Local NHL fan Ernest Burelle has been luckier than the Winnipeg Jets this season.
Burelle, who retired six years ago at 51 after selling his garage door installation company, has claimed a cool total of $50,945 in winning five 50/50 prizes offered on game days from Nov. 27 to March 11.
"I’ve never heard of anybody winning five," Burelle said with a laugh Friday. "I’ve been told I have horseshoes way up my butt."
While Burelle may have horseshoes up there, his butt doesn’t warm a seat in the Canada Life Centre for Jets home games.
"I watch them on television and I buy 50/50 tickets online," he said.
"I was a season-ticket holder with two buddies two or three years ago, but when you go there it is loud and when you want a drink you have to get up and when you go to the bathroom you have to stand in line. It’s so much easier to get a beer from my fridge and watch the game on TV."
Burelle has a system but you have to be willing to bet — and lose — more than a few dollars to follow it.
"I will not buy tickets when (the Jets) are at home," he said. "That’s because when they play here, you have people in the whole arena who are buying them. The odds of you winning are lesser."
“I’ve never heard of anybody winning five. I’ve been told I have horseshoes way up my butt.” — Ernest Burelle
As well, when Burelle buys, he buys in bulk: 10 lots of 100 tickets ($80 each), so he has 1,000 tickets in the pot.
Burelle won $11,855 on Nov. 27, when the Jets faced off against the Blackhawks in Chicago. In January, he went on a streak, winning Jan. 2 ($11,625), Jan. 13 ($5,000), and Jan. 25 ($7,065, a rare home buy for Burelle). He closed out the season with a $15,400 win March 11.
His run didn’t go unnoticed by Jets/arena owner True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
In fact, his luck, and the luck of seven other winners of two draws apiece this past NHL season, caused True North to examine its online draw system to make sure everything was on the up and up.
The multiple winners include Andrew Schultz, who won the early bird draw of $5,000 and the regular 50/50 of $10,775 during the same Dec. 9 game. (Schultz could not be reached for comment.)
“I will not buy tickets when (the Jets) are at home. That’s because when they play here, you have people in the whole arena who are buying them. The odds of you winning are lesser.” — Ernest Burelle
"As part of the checks and balances of our program, repeat winners were flagged earlier this year and a thorough review was conducted which affirmed the integrity of both the process and the technology behind the draws," True North spokeswoman Krista Sinaisky said Friday.
"All tickets entered into our 50/50 draws have an equal chance of winning, as assured by the certification of our raffle system and regular rigorous audits," Sinaisky said.
"The majority of this season’s winners were unique winners. When we see people win multiple times, it is commensurate with an increased investment in tickets."
However, Sinaisky said, the biggest winners are in the community, as just as much money goes to the True North Youth Foundation as it does to the successful ticket holders.
"The Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose 50/50 programs are the primary source of funding for the True North Youth Foundation and its three core programs (Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy, Project 11 and Camp Manitou), which provide enriching educational, sports-based and character-building programming that facilitates physical, social, emotional and intellectual growth in young Manitobans," True North said.
"Thanks to the support of 50/50 participants and all donors, the TNYF was able to positively impact more than 70,000 youth this season."
Meanwhile, as Burelle himself admits, he still loses more times than he wins. He’s not sure whether he will continue going big on 50/50 draws next season.
"I’ve won $51,000, but out of that I spent $20,000 and, towards the end, I was saying my lucky streak is over," he said. "You can only be so lucky."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.