Crowds squeezed in around the hermit crab races so tightly that people in the back had to stand on their tiptoes and hold their phones high in the air to film any of the action.
As the crabs scuttled from the centre of the circular table to its outer edge, an emcee announced which ones had slowed down and which were gaining a lead, and the crowd cheered and hollered.
Those who bet on the crustaceans were in good spirits whether they won or lost: Eitherway, their gamble helped the cause of caring for the territory’s stray animals.
On Saturday night, the crab races, along with live entertainment and other gambling opportunities, drew hundreds to Nanny Cay for the Humane Society of the BVI’s annual Gaming Night.
“It’s a really fun event,” said Kirstie Palmer, who sits on the board of directors, adding, “It brings the whole community together. It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year.”
Running annually since 1984 — with the exception of 2018, due to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma — the event earns a majority of the society’s annual revenue, Ms. Palmer said.
Attendees paid a $30 entrance fee, which included chips worth $10 in credit that could be redeemed for various prizes, and anyone who wanted to improve their odds were always welcome to purchase more.
In addition, each of the racing crabs had a corporate sponsor — the going rate was $500 — and the society received a portion of food and drink sales.
More than twice as many people attended as last year, and the organisation netted about $55,000, all of which will go towards running the animal shelter in Johnsons Ghut, Ms. Palmer said.
New shelter needed
This year, the funds are urgently needed, she added. On top of the high cost of maintaining daily operations at the shelter, the society last year received notice that its landlord wanted the property vacated by Dec. 31, a deadline that has come and gone.
Society officials have reached out to their landlord, who lives abroad, to negotiate a delayed schedule, but they have not heard back, Ms. Palmer said.
The Humane Society owns land in Josiahs Bay where board members intend to build a new shelter, but contractors have estimated it will cost around $450,000.
So far, they’ve raised about $106,000, and they spend roughly $3,000 every three months just to feed the animals currently in their care, Ms. Palmer said.
“Just to keep the shelter running, and feeding animals and staffing, it’s imperative to do this event,” she explained.
The fundraiser kicked off at 7 p.m. and soon swelled with people. By 7:45 the blackjack tables were filling up, with volunteer dealers shuffling and dealing cards while their clientele chatted, sipped their drinks or, in some cases, tended to their children playing in the sand.
Tahira Lewis had never gambled before Saturday, but while seated with her friends at one of the blackjack tables, she was having a hot night, she said.
Ms. Lewis had played several rounds and won most of them, though her motivation to gamble was not the winning of prizes but the new member in her family, she said.
“Two of my friends invited me to come, and because I just got a puppy I decided, ‘Why not?’” she said.
As the marquee event of a non-profit organisation with a full-time staff of just two, the fundraiser could not function without the help of volunteers.
Greg O’Keefe Davis and his wife have long volunteered for the Humane Society, and because the blackjack and poker dealers are so integral to the fundraiser’s success, he decided to step into the role, he said.
“We know that that’s a big part of the night, … so for us it was just a way we could really help, and also it was good fun,” Mr. O’Keefe Davis said.
For Ms. Palmer and the other members of the Humane Society’s board, organising the fundraiser was a months-long effort of corralling corporate sponsors and searching mailing lists for potential volunteers.
But watching the attendees enjoying the event with smiles on their face and chips rattling in their plastic cups, Ms. Palmer was able to relax a little, she said.
“That’s when you kind of breathe a sigh of relief that everyone’s coming in and everyone’s having fun,” she said, adding, “This has to be our most fun event, because this will literally do the entire year and keep us rock-and-rolling.”