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Behind-the-scenes with Prudential Center’s 50/50 raffle; $250,000 raised for charity by season’s end

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Selling raffle tickets, Jack Gabuzda operates a ticket kiosk by the Ice Lounge. Fans can buy tickets up to the start of the third period, with the chance to win half of the pot. Photo by Courtney Gfroerer

In a nondescript control room deep within Prudential Center, a Devils employee watches over six printers and a computer, tracking sales and communicating with a team of neon green t-shirt-clad sellers on the arena’s concourse. All goes well until the only distress signal of the night comes in: a kiosk station is down. The employee troubleshoots the problem in a matter of minutes through a helpline and then fills the printers with more paper as the machines continue to spit out numbers. By the end of the night, one lucky fan will walk out of The Rock a few thousand dollars richer, and a charity partner will benefit from the generosity of those that purchased a ticket knowing their chances of winning were slim.

This is the 50/50 raffle, a new fundraiser introduced at Prudential Center this season. The charitable game has been a substantial success, on track to raise $250,000 for community partners by the end of the regular season, and an equal amount going to the more than 30 winners since the raffle began.

Before fans flood the concourse for a Devils game, the 50/50 team gathers for a pre-game meeting to go over what everyone needs to know about the night’s charity partners and determine where everyone will be stationed.

The raffle kicks off as the doors open—5:30 pm on a typical game night— and runs until the start of the third period. Customers can purchase tickets from one of four kiosks around the arena or from one of the handful of roaming sales representatives on the main concourse. With each purchase, information is sent back to the control room where tickets are printed and prepared for drawing. Per local regulations, the raffle cannot be digitized and must involve a person pulling a randomly selected ticket from the pool.

Between periods, the printers get a serious workout. During both intermissions, fans fill the lines to get the chance at the prize, and in the control room there is a symphony of printers chiming away. At first the constant sound of printing might feel annoying, but then when the game resumes, one misses the melody of the printers. Whenever there’s action on the ice, as can be expected, there are less fans on the concourse, looking to win big.

Printing the tickets, these little machines are set around the raffle bucket. After the second intermission, a Devils employee will randomly pull out a winning ticket.

Once the puck drops for the presumably final frame, it’s time to let the printers finish printing the raffle tickets, stir the bucket of numbers, and pull out a winner. As soon as the winning ticket is validated—a process that ensures nothing is off— the winning number and total pot is given to the game operations team to announce on the scoreboard during a stoppage in play. If a winner doesn’t come forward within 10 minutes, another number is selected.

Winners definitely don’t dawdle when dollars are on the line. Only once has the team had to select a second number. After confirming the winning ticket, the fan fills out a number of tax forms and is invited back to a future game when a check for the prize will be ready.

While the employees that make the 50/50 happen have a good time throughout the night, it’s also fun for the participants, especially the winners. During the March 29 game against the Anaheim Ducks, winners from the previous games of the month were invited to watch the game and receive their winnings, and some even bought tickets again.

One of the past winners was Linda Hoeffner, who described winning as an unbelievable experience. “I went to the kiosk and said ‘I think I might have the numbers’ and he said ‘Yes you do!’” Hoeffner bought her ticket after seeing her sister-in-law buy one and deciding she wanted to support the night’s charity partner, The Seeing Eye. Hoeffner and her husband travel 90 minutes from New York for a couple of Devils games a year.

Jesse Fischbein attended the game on behalf of his father, Steve, who won earlier in March. The younger Fischbein explained that his family would regularly buy tickets ever since the raffles began, and his father would always say to the sales person, “This time I want you to sell me the winning ticket.” At every game, both Steve and Jesse would spend $20 for 40 tickets. Jesse added that his father often goes to the same kiosk at each game. Both of the former winners spoke about how much they liked that half of the money went to charity.

For the sellers, it’s also fun to see repeat customers. Natalie Bradfield, who has been selling tickets since the start, said that some season ticket holders and frequent attendees think it’s good luck to buy from the same person. “You kind of develop a relationship with them, and so they come to you when they want tickets at the next game.”

Even the new guy in the group enjoyed the experience. Tim Ibe was working his second game, but already had the confidence of a veteran. “I love it, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. Ibe said his strategy was to simply go where there were people.

With a quarter of a million dollars going to both winners and charities by the end of its first season, the 50/50 raffle has become a staple of the experience at Prudential Center.

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