Some Brantford charities hurt by post-casino bingo closure

Brantford Charities Bingo Palace raised about $800,000 for charities each year. That revenue has not been recooped, says its former volunteer general manager. With 100 Hamilton charities benefiting from bingo halls, Hamilton could face the same thing.

About 100 Hamilton charities rely on bingo money

Bill Sanderson, executive director of St. Leonard's Community Services, says the charity took a steep post-casino hit when it lost its bingo revenue and a large part of its Nevada ticket sales. About 100 Hamilton charities could be in a similar situation. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

When Bill Sanderson discusses the OLG Casino Brantford, the frustration still inches into his voice.

Sanderson is the former voluntary general manager of the Brantford Charities Bingo Palace, where 28 charities once rallied to raise money for their causes.

The casino opened in late 1999. Ninety days later, the bingo hall closed from lack of revenue.

Sanderson is also executive director of St. Leonard's Community Services, which offers mental health and addictions counseling, including help for problem gamblers. Bingo money was used for services such as a men's violence support program and a program aimed at reducing impaired driving.

Delta Bingo in downtown Hamilton benefits about 50 charities. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Thirteen years later, the society still feels the pain of the lost revenue, Sanderson said.

"It's amazing how quickly it all went down the tubes."

Brantford Charities Bingo Palace opened to great fanfare in 1994. In its six-year life, it distributed $4,416,141 to local charities.

The charities ranged from the YM-YWCA to Brantford Minor Lacrosse. The Canadian Hearing Society, the Kinsmen Club and the United Way were part of the group.

The collective joined with a church group in 1998 to oppose the casino at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing. The argument was unsuccessful.

This is the second story in a four-part series about how a casino has impacted Brantford. 

Previous story:

Casino means money for a new downtown, Brantford mayor says


The social costs of a casino

The casino has generated money for charity too. Since 1999, about $3.5 million has been used to fund charities via Brant Community Foundation. Charities can also apply to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which the OLG has used to distribute $120 million provincewide in the past year, the OLG's website says.

Mayor Chris Friel says the Brant Community Foundation is a more equitable way to fund charities.

Other ways to fundraise

"There were a handful of charities dominating our bingo halls, and that handful of charities pulled in about 70 per cent of the dollars," he said. "I can't tell you that I've heard any charitable groups say 'I really miss bingo.'"  

But Sanderson said the end result has been less money for charities across the city, particularly since Delta Bingo, which also raised money for charities, has closed too. More of the wealth has been redistributed to the municipal and provincial levels of government, he said.

"The numbers speak for themselves."

With bingo, "around $5 million net was being shared amongst charities in Brantford. How can anyone say that's happening now? They can't."

Numbers show a direct line between the opening of the casino and the amount fundraised by St. Leonard's. The organization made $86,581 from the bingo hall in 1998. In 1999, that dropped to $40,769. In early 2000, the hall closed for good.

Nevada tickets down too

St. Leonard's also depended on Nevada ticket revenue. A downtown kiosk brought the charity as much as half a million dollars some years. In 1999, it brought in $400,687, but the following year, that was cut nearly in half. The revenue saw a steady decline to $73,526 in 2009.

In 2010, St. Leonard's moved its Nevada kiosk farther away from the casino — to Lynden Park Mall in the northeast corner of the city — and revenue sprang up to $104,049.

"The farther we move it away from the casino, the better it does," Sanderson said.

Many Hamilton charities also count on bingo hall revenue. The city's two bingo halls — the Princess Bingo Centre on the Mountain and Delta Bingo downtown — help fund about 100 Hamilton charities.

Delta Bingo downtown distributes about $1 million to charities each year, said Ed Bachiu, president of the Delta Bingo sponsors association.

Changing tide

Bingo is already struggling due to a changing tide in gaming, he said. Both local bingo halls are counting on new OLG electronic bingo being introduced at the halls. But even with declining revenue, it's worth it for charities to participate.

But "if a casino moves into a Hamilton area, especially if moves into downtown core, it would kill us," said Bachiu, whose association includes sports clubs, schools and churches. "It would be 50 charities without a way to fundraise."

Clement Feierabend, Rotarian and president of the Palace Bingo Centre sponsors association, said attendance at the hall has fallen as much as 40 per cent in the past five years. But it's still a worthwhile fundraiser, he said.

He plans to write council to remind them about a casino's potential impact on bingo fundraising.

"To some degree, we lose people now to Flamboro Downs, but not as many as if it was right downtown," he said.

"The new casino model isn't really keeping charities in mind."

Study from Las Vegas

study out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas last week states that local businesses do not suffer when a casino is built.

The report, which was geared to the Greater Toronto Area, said there was "minimal risk to other industries."

Dr. Kahlil Philander told CBC Hamilton that he also found little adverse risk to bingo halls.

"We didn't find any evidence it would cannibalize bingo halls," he said.

But for Sanderson, the injustice is clear. Brantford's OLG Casino brought in $112 million last year, while charities that once raised their own money must now go "cap in hand" to request funds for specific programs, he said.

"I'm disappointed that after all is said and done, the city and the province haven't seen their way clear to look at impact this has had on us," he said. "It would be nice if one day someone looked at the issue and said 'This has to be rectified.'"

This graphic shows how Nevada ticket revenue declined for St. Leonard's Society when the casino opened. The move to the mall location meant the kiosk was farther from the casino.