Princess Bingo is at risk of closing unless the city of Hamilton steps in to help.
The city’s Planning Committee met Tuesday (Sept. 17) and welcomed a presentation on behalf of the Princess Bingo Sponsors Association.
John VanDuzer, executive director of the Charity Gaming Federation of Ontario, met with the committee to discuss Princess’s push to upgrade their Hamilton hall to include electronic bingo machines.
“Princess is at risk of closing in the next year or two,” VanDuzer said, adding that in recent years the for-profit organization, that is in partnership with dozens of local charities, has seen steadily declining sales in recent years.
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As a result, more than 50 charities in the Hamilton area who rely on proceeds from Princess Bingo will be significantly impacted.
VanDuzer said the one way to save Princess is to upgrade the Hall to include eBingo machines, also known as cGaming.
He asked the committee to consider putting forward a motion to City Council at its meeting on September 15 providing the City’s permission that the Princess Bingo Sponsors Association and the hall be able to participate in cGaming.
“This is what our customers are asking for,” he said. “This is something now being offered in 37 other Bingo halls across the province.”
Under the new cGaming model, revenue for charities, which currently sits at 45 per cent, will fall to 25 per cent. But, according to VanDuzer, there will be more profitability because revenue will soar under the new model.
The dollar figure going to charities is projected to be $7,305,500. Municipal revenue is pegged at $876,660 under the new model.
Councillor Esther Pauls, who is not on the Planning Committe but who attended the meeting to endorse the proposal, and whose ward is where Princess Bingo is located, noted that the hall has been in the community for 30 years.
“We cannot afford to lose it,” she said. “It’s great entertainment for people. It’s where a lot of people go to socialize.”
Other councillors were reluctant, however, to hop on board.
Councillors John-Paul Danko and Maureen Wilson seemed particularly concerned about the public health impacts this form of gambling might have on the community at large.
“[Bingo gives people] an opportunity to socialize,” VanDuzer said. “[Bingo] is a low-stakes way to enjoy an evening.”
Councillor Brad Clark, who claims he is no stranger to the gambling debate in Hamilton as it pertains to the infamous downtown casino proposal, agreed that the issue was not about gambling.
“This is a very highly regulated [industry],” he pointed out, noting that the bingo halls fall under the purview of not just the OLG but the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
If approvals for the upgrades go through, the cost will fall to the business and not the municipality, VanDuzer assured committee members before finishing his presentation.
The committee voted to put forward the motion at City Council’s next meeting on September 25.