Bruce Smith is betting against growing odds that the biggest raffle of his life won't go up in smoke.
The assistant chief at Orchard Beach Fire Department only has four days left to hawk another 400 tickets needed to raffle off a seafood restaurant on Stoney Creek.
Chances appear increasingly slim that Smith and the other volunteer firefighters will succeed in their second last-minute pitch to fire up sales. Even with an extended deadline and month-long advertising campaign, they have failed to draw enough customers.
"Right now, I just want to keep our good name, even if we don't make a dime," said Smith, who arranged the unusual raffle.
The idea sounded good last spring, when Smith was talking with the owner of Captain Gilley's Seafood restaurant over a few beers. The owner, who wants to sell his business on Nabbs Creek Road for personal reasons and has asked not to be identified, seized the chance to also help raise $450,000 for new fire equipment.
Smith, a 40-year-old raffling pro who sold his first tickets at age 18, didn't foresee any serious hurdles. But even staunch supporters seem reluctant to gamble on more than one $100 ticket -- except Bucky Lynch, the owner of the 11-store Lucky convenience market chain, who bet $10,000 on 100 chances.
The Fire Department initially intended to sell 3,000 tickets to cover the $264,823 restaurant and carry-out, with money to spare for a fire truck, floodlights and gas masks. When more than half the tickets were left on the day of the Sept. 28 drawing, Smith extended the deadline by 60 days and persuaded the restaurant owner to drop the price.
But the firefighters still haven't sold all 2,000 tickets, the owner's bottom line to keep the drawing scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday.
Smith hopes to hawk the remaining 400 tickets at Maryland's annual restaurant convention in Baltimore. He rented a booth in Festival Hall, where he plans to encourage restaurant owners today and tomorrow to gamble $100 on a shot at expansion.
If Lady Luck fails to smile on the contest, Smith will call off the drawing and refund the tickets. And the restaurant owner faces the possibility of replacing his "Win This Building" poster with a simple "For Sale" sign.