Alberta's gambling addiction is lucky for some, as charities get funds

Alberta’s gambling addiction is lucky for some, as charities get funds

The State
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Naomi Knoch, SEARCH Apprentice Writer

[] If people did not gamble, would kids have no arenas to play hockey in? The Alberta government’s narrative is that VLT’s and other games of chance equal community investment. But, is it worth it?

VIDEO: [AGLC] The non-profit Connect Society, which strengthens connections among deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people is supported by Alberta gaming and liquor revenue. [Jul 26, 2018]

This column is the second in a series examining Alberta’s investment in the gambling industry. The first explored general pros and cons of the ever-growing business. Now I’ll explore how charities benefit from gaming. Because notwithstanding gambling’s critics, they do.

Regardless of who feeds the slot machines or marks bingo cards, the beneficiaries are usually groups that help low-income families.

Folks such as Lethbridge’s Prairie Tractor & Engine Museum Society, that uses Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLCC) funds to teach kids about pioneer history, farming and nature. The museum hosts close to 1,000 Grade One to Grade Three students each spring for a fun day of trips and tours.

Or, Edmonton’s Fliteway Figure Skating Club which keeps fees affordable last year, through the almost $144,000 their organization earned from gambling revenue in 2018. Coaching Director Clyde Hammer said the club receives a large lump sum of casino dollars every 18 months and a smaller sum from bingo three to six times a month to support its 700 skaters. Hammer said gaming funds make up one-fifth of Fliteway’s revenue and go right back into paying costs. He added that some staff don’t work the bingo or casino for religious reasons, but gambling money doesn’t bother him. “It’s for a good cause, I know where it’s coming from.”

In fact, AGLCC lists more than 2,000 organizations that benefitted from gambling in 2018. Sports clubs, art groups, conservation societies and private medical centres – to name a few – garner additional income through the Alberta gaming system. Proceeds generated range from as low as $100 to more than $485,000.

For some, it’s pure survival: Take Innisfail’s Aberdeen Social club. The country community hall is a social centre that in 2018, received $25,000 in casino money. “Without the revenue our hall would shut down,” said Simone Hoffer, treasurer for the club. “We wouldn’t exist.” Besides gaming money, the club’s only other revenue is the rental of its hall. Hoffer expressed mixed feelings over the funding source and said it bothers her personally. “I’m Catholic, and I’m aware of where this money is coming from and the impact it causes to peoples’ lives.” However, Hoffer said she’s worked casinos for all types of groups, from dance studios to ski hills and knows that every single one would struggle or stop running without casino revenue. “I’m willing to get behind it one hundred per cent because of the positive impact it brings.”

The AGLCC lists 19 traditional casinos, 22 bingo facilities, four Racing Entertainment Centres (REC’s), five Host First Nation Casinos, 2,731 lottery ticket centres, 5,984 video lottery terminals (VLT’s) and 14,160 casino gaming terminals in REC’s and casinos.

During the 2017-18 fiscal year, these gaming stations transferred $1.4 billion into the Alberta Lottery Fund and an additional $331 million to charities. Excluding fees for trustee services and licences, neither the Alberta government nor AGLC receive revenue off gaming income raised by charities. “This opens a very lucrative door for non-profits,” said Chara Goodings, Senior Communications Officer for AGLCC. Happily in this context perhaps, Alberta’s economic slump hasn’t slowed the fast-paced, ever-growing gaming world.

Not just any association can play: The Canadian Criminal Code requires groups participating in charitable gaming to be charitable or religious and to direct all proceeds to specified endeavours. Eligibility is based on the “relief of poverty, advancement of education, advancement of religion, and other purposes beneficial to the community.” Applicants must be non-profit, have Alberta resident volunteers and a democratically chosen executive. Organizations meeting the right criteria can apply for a charitable gaming licence to conduct and manage events at casino and bingo halls. Goodings said the commission processes 2,800 licence applications yearly, with a refusal rate of just five per cent.

There is no question that when the lottery train comes in, many people ride.

Ironically though, some casino dollars go back into fighting addiction and people in that business say they depend on it.

Calgary’s Simon House Recovery Centre, a treatment facility for men struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, has partnered with AGLCC since 1983 and has volunteers in three of Calgary’s bingo halls. In a testimony written on AGLCC’s website, Simon House states that through donor support, community partners and AGLCC, men have been given the tools to become and remain sober, receiving a new lease on life. “The generosity of AGLCC has been indispensable and life changing for these men and their families,” wrote Simon House.

So yes, the revenue gambling generates in Alberta paves the way for kids to get active, have fun and be influenced for the better. It draws communities together, even changes the lives of addicts.

But is all this good something the government should be doing anyway, without drawing the money out of gambling addicts?

What about those addicts, the folks who are actually the ones playing the VLT’s, buying the tickets, frequenting the bingo halls? Their story is not a pretty picture and it’s one that needs to be told as well. But that’s for a future column.

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