Pirates make big winners of fans with 50-50 raffle

Chris Harlan
| Monday, July 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

While the Pirates pursue their first winning season in two decades, ballpark vendor Dylan Solar finds fans who wish to win exactly half.

Not half of 162 games.

They want half of $23,000 — or more.

For the first time, the Pirates are holding charity raffles at each game this season at PNC Park, and five-figure jackpots have become common. The winning ticket-holder takes half of the money, and Pirates Charities keeps the other half.

Three entries cost $5. Ten entries cost $10. Forty entries, $20.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals will be in town on Monday for a five-game series that's expected to draw significant crowds, and a few lucky fans will have added reason to cheer.

“Everybody loves a 50/50 at their local softball field, so this is just on a grander stage with 30,000 friends to help throw in,” said Solar, 23, of Franklin Park, who once sold $80 in entries to a single fan. “Overall, people are really excited about it. Every game I get regulars.”

As the PNC Park crowds have grown this summer, so have the jackpots. The pot totaled less than $3,000 on some early-April nights, but it reached a season-high $23,146 on July 13, the Saturday before the All-Star Break. More than $51,000 was spent on raffle tickets during that three-game series with the Mets.

“At the beginning, it was a little slow because nobody knew about it,” Solar said. “As we've gone on, especially more recently, people have really warmed up to it.”

Raffles in professional sports stadiums were illegal in Pennsylvania until last year when state lawmakers updated the Small Games of Chance Act. The Pirates and the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers supported the legislation, said Patty Paytas, the Pirates' senior vice president for community and public affairs.

A number of major-league baseball teams hold similar raffles, but 50/50 drawings have been a Canadian hockey tradition for a long time, Paytas said.

“We've been told anecdotally about some unbelievable pots that were generated at some of those games,” she said.

Expanding on that Canadian tradition, the Penguins and Flyers each held 50/50 raffles this season. The Penguins chose a different charity each night and collected a season-high $32,858 jackpot on April 27 for Junior Achievement of Western Pa. The Flyers routinely raised more than $50,000 a night, with an $85,595 jackpot earmarked for Boston Marathon bombing victims.

Now baseball has embraced the raffles.

The Arizona Diamondbacks announced that their July 5 raffle would benefit Arizona wildfire victims, and the team sold more than $100,000 worth of entries for that night's game against the Colorado Rockies. The fan holding ticket A-98867 won $50,008.

The Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox all offer 50/50 raffles.

“We love it,” Paytas said. “It's a lot of fun for the fans, and all of the money does go to charity. It's a win-win for everybody.”

Unlike the 50/50 raffles at high school games, there are no rolls of colored tickets in PNC Park, and the winner isn't sent scurrying to the car with handfuls of cash.

“We've heard that that happens in some of the arenas in Canada,” Paytas said. “We thought: ‘Oh, my gosh! We can't do that.' ”

Pointstreak 5050, a Canadian software company from Prince Edward Island, oversees the Pirates' raffles. Once the winner completes the required documents, he or she receives a check within a few weeks, less 25 percent for federal income taxes.

Vickie Guido of Belle Vernon celebrated the Fourth of July by winning half of a $13,410 jackpot. A frequent participant in 50/50 raffles, she said this was her second try in PNC Park.

From their infield box seats, she had friends double-check one of her 40 entries with the winning number on the scoreboard.

“I just kept saying: ‘I think I won! I think I won!' ” Guido said. “I was shaking, and I couldn't believe it.”

Chris Harlan is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com.

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