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Shake Off Winter Blues at the Brighton Optimist Club's Big Camel Race

The 5th Annual Big Camel Race will be held Saturday at Crystal Gardens Banquet Center in Howell.

The Brighton Optimists are bringing the tropics to Michigan when it hosts its 5th Annual Big Camel Race on Saturday at Crystal Gardens Banquet Center. The night will be Hawaiian-themed.

A Camel Race is basically a form of a millionaire party, licensed by state, according to Optimist Club member and event organizer Bob Smith.

Only instead of games like roulette, craps and poker, the Optimists let local businesses adopt camels, which are silhouettes on bases with wheels. Then the camels are raced six at a time by the roll of dice.

"If dice number 1 and 3 show up, the camels in those spots move up one position," Smith said. "The first one to the end of the track wins. It's a lot of fun. There's a lot of excitement."

The Optimists are not allowed to use real money for charitable gaming, so they came up with the idea for 'camel bucks.'

"What we have you do is turn real money into camel bucks and the camel bucks are what you use to put your wagers in all night," Smith said. "At the end of the night, you can turn your camel bucks into U.S. currency."

The event typically raises between $5,000 and $7,000, according to Smith. The money goes to fund the Optimist Club's free youth events as well as provides scholarships to graduating seniors.

Camels are decorated by participants. Many choose to stick with the event theme, Smith said, but not always.

"Last year, we had a 50s theme and we had a couple of black haired, pompadour camels," Smith said. "The winning camel was Marilyn McCamel (Monroe). It was hilarious. It was just unbelievable. I can't believe the trouble some people go to to decorate their camels. But some are very plain - and that's okay. They are just coming out to have a good time and help the Optimist Club raise some money."

Admission costs $40 and includes a buffet dinner, soda, water, coffee, draft beer and house wine tickets. Races will begin at 7:40 p.m. with 50/50 raffles and second-chance door prizes in between. The event will run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"Even if you've lost on the camel race itself, you've got a pretty good chance of picking up a door prize - we call them second chance prizes," Smith said. 

About 300 people attend the event each year, according to Smith. But this year's pre-ticket sales are down.

Purchase your tickets by 5 p.m. today or reserve them for pick up at the event.  For more information, visit http://www.BigCamelRace.com.

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