Toronto

Seniors frustrated with new gambling rules at city-run community centres

Some Toronto senior citizens are accusing bureaucrats at city hall of ruining their fun when they play card games and bingo at city-run community centres.

'Why can't they just leave us alone, for goodness sakes?' says Edna Fitzgerald

Bill and June Haskins have been running the card games at the the Stephen Leacock Seniors Community Centre for seven years. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Some Toronto senior citizens are accusing bureaucrats at city hall of ruining their fun when they play card games and bingo at city-run community centres.

Last month, the seniors at the Stephen Leacock Seniors Community Centre, located near Birchmount Road and Sheppard Avenue E., were told they were no longer allowed to play games at the $1.25 entry fee, due to a complaint the city received.

Then, they were told the entry fees for the games were under review and the fee is now 25 cents until that review is completed.

Bill Haskins, 85, has been running the games every Friday at the centre for seven years. He said the lower entry fee takes away all the strategy and excitement.

"That spoils the whole game because there's some skill in it, and we need our competitive juices going," he told CBC Toronto.

"It changes the whole game of euchre because you'll take chances, whereas for a quarter, who cares?" echoed his wife June Haskins. "You'll take a chance every time."

She said it used to be a full house for the games but that's quickly changing.

"People are walking out. Thirty people have walked out of the bingo. Everybody walked out of the poker rooms," she said.

When the change came into effect

In early June, the city announced that beginning July 2 seniors could no longer play any card games or bingo for money. Then it announced the review.

"There was a complaint that sparked this review," said Howie Dayton, the city's director of community recreation.  

"It was primarily around the size of some of the fees and the financial challenges that that was causing some of our older adults."

Dayton said the city "obviously needed to respond and ensure that these programs, which are largely self-run, are compliant" with provincial gaming legislation.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the provincial body responsible for overseeing and regulating licensed events such as lotteries, bingo games and 50/50 draws, is helping the city conduct the review, which Dayton hopes will be completed by the end of the year.

'Why can't they just leave us alone?'

The rules that are being enforced during the review period are a 25-cent cap for bingo cards with a maximum of three additional buy-ins at 25 cents, making it a dollar for each game. And card games are 25 cents per buy-in with a maximum of three additional buy-ins.

The card games include bridge, bid euchre, euchre and cribbage.

"It takes all the fun out of the game — not some — all of the fun," said Haskins.

The Stephen Leacock Seniors Community Centre where seniors come every Friday to play card games. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"It's three hours of an afternoon out and you get to socialize with people. There's a lot of people who don't have the opportunity to see other people," said Edna Fitzgerald, a player at the community centre.

"I think they're trying to dictate to us what us old people can do with our money," she added.

"Why can't they just leave us alone, for goodness sakes? We're not doing anyone any harm."

With files from Talia Ricci

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