BINGO HALLS & CHARITY REVENUES
In Ontario municipalities where smoke-free bylaws are now being debated, charities that receive funding from local bingo games are one of the best-organized groups of bylaw opponents. At every municipal meeting during which 100% smoke-free status for bingo is being considered, local charities, often numbering in the dozens, appear at meetings and insist that the loss of revenue if bingo is made smoke free will range from seriously inconvenient to catastrophic.
This effort is being organized by the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association with help from franchises like Bingo Country and independent local operators (and more recently from PUBCO). Charities complaining of potential disaster from lost revenue frequently include youth sports teams, mental health associations, and groups that organize other recreational activities for young people. There have occasionally been complaints raised by health-related interests such as palliative care centres.
The most striking feature of the anti-smoke-free bingo charity lobby is the extent to which organizations working with youth, often in physical and/or health education pursuits, can insist on the need to maintain smoking in bingos without any sense of contradiction between their work with youth and their support of smoking. This contradiction has occasionally been pointed out by municipal councillors, but most apparently prefer to avoid any perceived or implied criticism of groups which are among the cornerstones of community life.
The tendency of most municipal councils currently is to allow bingos to construct designated smoking rooms to a maximum of 50% of their seating capacity, this often being the only exception in otherwise strong bylaws.
Summary of Current Bylaws
Click here to view a table for current bingo hall smoking policies in municipalities with smoke-free bylaws.
In summary, of the 249 municipalities that have public place smoking bylaws, 191 municipalities make bingo halls 100% smoke-free. 119 of these municipalities specifically address bingo halls in their bylaws.
- There are currently 167 municipalities with implemented 100% smoke-free public place bylaws, which include bingo halls.
- By the end of 2010, 14 more municipalities will have 100% smoke-free bingo halls.
- 45 municipalities have smoking bylaws that allow for DSRs in bingo halls.
- 6 municipalities currently allow for varying levels of unenclosed smoking.
- 9 of these municipalities have sunset provisions to go 100% smoke-free.
- Hearst, Muskoka and St. Thomas have smoking bylaws which exempt bingo halls completely.
The real question is whether there has been any demonstrated revenue loss in municipalities that have made bingo 100% smoke-free, notably the regions of Waterloo and Ottawa. Both municipalities have prepared detailed reports on the current status of bingo operations in their communities, including the large number of competitive pressures that now face the bingo industry, notably from electronic games, slots and casinos. Bingo halls in the Region of Waterloo have all been recently refurbished, which would presumably not have been the case if they had suffered the predicted catastrophic loss of revenues resulting from the Region's smoke-free bylaw. In Ottawa, one hall is known to have closed, but there appear to have been a number of extenuating circumstances leading to this closure that had nothing to do with the city's smoke-free bylaw.
In fact, in a submission to Mississauga City Council in April 2000, the four bingo halls in the City reported a 35-45% decrease in charity bingo profits since the opening of slot machine operations at Woodbine and Mohawk raceways. York Region, Hamilton and Brantford reported similar trends. A detailed report and action plan for Ottawa to help deal with declining charitable bingo revenues was prepared in February 2002 and submitted to the municipality.
- Click here for a backgrounder on bingo halls, provided by the Media Network of Cancer Care Ontario.
Below are clips from news stories that reported on this issue:
- "Increased competition for the gambling dollar has left many small charities and non-profit groups scrambling to replace dwindling bingo revenues" (Hamilton Spectator, April 17, 2000).
- "Slot machines are bleeding local charities by taking customers away from bingo halls that raise money for them" (The Toronto Sun, June 29, 2000).
Opposition from Bingo Groups
In Kingston’s smoke-free bylaw, an allowance was made for bingo halls to have up to 50% of the total seating area as a Designated Smoking Room (DSR) that does not require staff to enter at any time. In a legal challenge to the bylaw, a group including two Royal Canadian Legions, several private veterans’ clubs and about 14 bars and pool halls, it was argued that the city was illegally discriminating against these groups by prohibiting smoking in their establishments while allowing for an exemption in bingo halls.
In June, an Ontario Court of Justice ruling upheld the bylaw and DSRs remain in bingo halls. (Kingston Whig Standard, June 25, 2003).
Following a lobby by representatives of the Orangeville and District Bingo Hall in Dufferin County, the original 100% smoke-free bylaw was amended to mirror Kingston by allowing for DSRs in bingo halls. Bingo representatives claimed the smoking ban was having a serious affect on their ability to raise charitable funds for the community. (Metroland Papers, September 16, 2003).
Essex County and Chatham-Kent
Following the implementation of a smoking ban in Tecumseh, bingo halls lobbied Essex County council during the drafting of the county’s 100% smoke-free bylaw, with evidence of drastic revenue reductions. Using the month of January 2002 as evidence for this decline, the Classic Bingo County manager drew a comparison of $153,000 raised for charities to $17,000 from January 2003 (after the bylaw was implemented).
The City of Windsor allows for up to 50% of the total floor space for smoking and bingo groups were asking council for the same across Essex County. Despite their efforts, the Essex County bylaw, which comes into effect October 1, 2003 implemented a 100% smoke-free policy for all bingo halls.
When the 100% smoke-free bylaw for Chatham-Kent was implemented in June 2003 there was not a notable drop in attendance and revenues. By August, however, there was a change in reports from bingo halls. While admitting that there had also been a loss of revenues from provincial casinos (none of which are smoke-free), bingo representatives asked council to waive bingo licensing fees for six months to recoup lost revenue. Council agreed to three months. Again, the bingo halls were claiming major losses of revenue for charitable organizations as a result of the smoke-free bylaw.
The 100% smoke-free bylaw for Greater Sudbury went into effect on May 31, 2003 with an allowance for DSRs until 2004. Shortly after, a difference was reported in attendance and revenue between bingo halls that did and did not have DSR accommodations. Despite this information, the bylaw was not amended and bingo halls remain 100% smoke-free.
York region originally elected to permit smoking in only one-quarter of a bingo hall’s area. However, following numerous complaints from operators of charity bingos, Regional council decided to bring its restrictions in line with Toronto’s, and the York Region bylaw now makes an allowance for up to 50% DSR in bingo halls.
After the implementation of Cobourg’s smoking bylaw in June 2003, a report from the Northumberland North Nevada Association, which represents 65 charities that raise money as bingo fundraisers, reported that "…the gross revenue for the period covering June 1 to June 21, 2003 is only down an estimated 1.4 per cent when compared to the same period last year." In fact, the association advocates the bylaw and acknowledges its benefits for attracting community members who do not smoke.
If partitioning of a bingo hall into smoking and non-smoking sections cannot be avoided in a municipal bylaw, it is essential that the bylaw require that neither staff nor volunteer callers be permitted in the hall's smoking sections. The Ontario Campaign has heard frequent anecdotal reports that representatives of charities receiving revenue from bingo games are routinely required to work either in halls with no separate smoking section, or in the smoking section in halls where a DSR has been allowed. These volunteers are told that if they do not agree to work in the smoking section as callers, their charity will not receive revenue from the hall's operations.
For evidence of the impact of second-hand smoke on employees, view the following article:
Exposure to secondhand smoke and excess lung cancer mortality risk among workers in the “5 B’s”: bars, bowling alleys, billiard halls, betting establishments, and bingo parlours. Siegel, M and Skeer, M. Tobacco Control. 2003; 12:333-338.