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'We will award a winner:' Oilers 50/50 delayed to fix errors, offer refunds

EDMONTON — A record-setting Edmonton Oilers 50/50 draw won't have a winner for several more days as officials work out problems with the online raffle.

EDMONTON — A record-setting Edmonton Oilers 50/50 draw won't have a winner for several more days as officials work out problems with the online raffle.

The community foundation said all tickets for the Friday draw, which hit more than $15 million, remain valid. But Alberta fans who want to void any ticket purchases will have until noon Thursday to make those requests and get a refund before a final total is determined and a winning ticket is drawn.

"We do really, really thank everybody for purchasing tickets and their interest in this online raffle program," Natalie Minckler, executive director of the foundation, said in an interview Monday. "To say it's unprecedented is a complete understatement.

"We definitely apologize and are truly sorry for what people have experienced. But at the end of the day, we will award a winner."

Ascend Fundraising Solutions, which ran the online draw, said its servers were overwhelmed with requests to purchase tickets. At certain points, it said demand exceeded $100,000 in tickets per minute, causing slow loading times, geolocation errors and duplication of some orders.

Daniel Lewis, Ascend's chief executive officer, said the company has hundreds of clients — including other National Hockey League teams — and has been involved in more than 10,000 charitable raffles in Canada and the United States.

"We have never seen the kind of demand for 50/50 lottery tickets in any capacity approaching what happened with the Oilers Foundation on Friday night, also on Wednesday and also on Monday."

Lewis said a typical Canadian hockey team's 50/50 raffle is about $100,000 per night — even with online sales.

"We are talking about orders of magnitude that we have stress tested for but never in a live environment like this," he said.

The previous 50/50 record had been held by Toronto Raptors basketball fans when a raffle reached $2 million during the 2019 NBA Finals, the year the team won the championship.

Lewis said the company worked to add server capacity for the Oilers raffle after a $5.4-million draw for Wednesday's game broke that record and had to close early when it reached its maximum allowable ticket sales. 

"Relieving the pressure on our servers resulted in pressure on our application, which created the problem," he explained.

"From a fan perspective, we understand the frustration. We understand that people would like to know a winner and the system has to continue to improve."

Fans complained on social media about not being able to get through the geolocation fence, despite living in Alberta, or getting charged multiple times for tickets if they were able to make a purchase.

Minckler said they expect the jackpot in Friday's draw will decrease after refunds are processed, but they want to make sure everyone who had problems with the draw is satisfied before they pick the winning ticket.

"We have to get it right," she said.

Minckler said the foundation has raised more than $9.4 million with its first three 50/50 raffles as the Oilers tried to make it into the first round of NHL playoffs.

"Whatever happens with this one happens," she said. "But at the end of the day, we already closed three raffles and have generated a significant amount of money that will help support significant community efforts."

Half of the pot raised from the Oilers raffles goes to the foundation, which supports organizations focused on vulnerable populations in downtown Edmonton and youth sports throughout northern Alberta.

The Oilers didn't make it into the playoffs Friday when the team lost Game 4 of its best-of-five series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press