Bingos to get $25,000 stop-gap Woodstock to boost charities struggling with the smoking ban and slot competition.
JOE BELANGER, Free Press Reporter
Woodstock will spend $25,000 to shore up local charities that have seen bingo revenues plummet in the wake of slot machines and a smoking ban. Last week, city council approved the plan to top up bingo revenues using slot machine income that normally funds its community grant program.
And Mayor Michael Harding is calling on the province to accelerate plans for a provincewide smoking ban to make the situation fairer.
"Hopefully, the province is going to step in and bring legislation earlier than 2006 to ban smoking and level the playing field," Harding said.
"This move is just to keep not-for-profit groups alive until then."
Harding said bingo revenues for charities dropped after the Woodstock Agricultural Society opened its slot machines in June 2001 and again after the city passed a no-smoking bylaw in September.
Harding said the smoking ban sent bingo players out of the city to nearby municipalities such as Brantford and Stratford where smoking is allowed.
Woodstock earlier decided to waive licensing fees for bingos in a bid to soften the blow of the smoking ban.
The number of charities operating bingos in Woodstock and other parts of Oxford County has dropped to about 72 from 110 before the slots opened.
A similar situation has occurred in London, where two bingo halls have closed since the smoking ban came into effect a year ago.
London city council cut bingo licensing fees in half to help charities.
But when the city moved to reinstate the full fee, bingo operators asked board of control to form a task force to study the issue, arguing increased fees would cut deeply into revenues.
A report is expected by the end of August.
Harding said charities provide essential programs for residents across the city and county.
These include minor sports groups that pay to use city facilities such as arenas and pools, service groups that provide for the underprivileged, and arts and culture groups.
Harding said if those organizations don't have enough revenue to operate, they'll have to cut programs or even close.
"This isn't about bingos; it's about dollars," Harding said.
"Every dollar those charities raise is worth $4 to $6 to the community (in volunteer hours). And if they don't get revenue from bingos, then they'll come back to the municipality looking for money."