Edmonton

Non-profits worried by loss of revenue from charitable gaming

Alberta charities and non-profits are concerned about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have their ability to raise money through charitable gaming events like casinos and bingos.

Fundraising casinos, bingos and raffles put on hold because of physical distancing

Almost 3,500 casino licences were issued to Alberta charities and non-profits in 2018, according to Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

Alberta charities and non-profits are concerned about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have their ability to raise money through charitable gaming events like casinos and bingos.

In 2018, almost 20,000 charitable organizations raised a total of $347 million through gaming, according to Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis.

About 70 per cent of that money was raised through casinos, with the rest coming from bingos, raffles and pull tickets.

"It will impact us dramatically," said Brenda Thiruchelvam of the Edmonton Columbian Choirs. "A big part of our budget is through gaming."

The non-profit is made up of four choir ensembles, whose members raised $105,000 through casinos and bingos in 2018.

The funds also help offset membership fees for families that can't afford them, Thiruchelvam said.

"If they don't have that when we come back into choir, we're going to have to get creative and look at something else."

Edmonton Columbian Choirs typically hosts 14 bingos a year and was set to host a casino this July.

It's too soon to say how much the cancellation of those events will cost the organization, said Thiruchelvam.

"We would certainly like to keep things status quo. Everything is going to depend on how soon things can get up and running," she said.

"As far as the finances go, we're going to probably have to look at it from month to month and just keep our fingers crossed."

The Edmonton Columbian Choirs' women's ensemble performs a Christmas concert in McDougall Church. (Supplied by Brenda Thiruchelvam)

Non-profits and charities across the country are grappling with the same financial uncertainty, said Bruce MacDonald, CEO of Imagine Canada, an organization that supports charitable work.

"Those revenues are just completely disappearing," MacDonald said. "It's enormously difficult."

Revenue earning cycles are different for non-profits than private businesses, he said. 

"If you're a restaurant that's closed, when you reopen people will come in and eat your food and pay. If you're a charity that lost a half-million-dollar gala in the month of June, that's not easily recoverable."

About 70 per cent of the 1,500 charity leaders surveyed online by Imagine Canada in late April reported declining revenues since the beginning of the pandemic, said McDonald. 

One in five organizations surveyed has shut its doors, though the closures may not be permanent, he said.

"We do see that the longer this goes on, with uncertainty around revenues, the higher the likelihood that more organizations won't be able to continue to operate."

Thiruchelvam doesn't want the Edmonton Columbian Choirs, created in 1966, to become part of those statistics. 

"After 54 years, it would be tragic to have to shut down because of something that's beyond our control," she said. 

The tight-knit members are looking forward to joining together in song when it's safe to do so, she said. 

"They miss the choir and they miss getting together. There's really a camaraderie that comes out of singing with people every week."

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