By Rick Pusiak
Local charities that rely on revenue from bingo halls are smoking mad over a proposal to phase out ventilated rooms for smokers by May 31, 2004.
Bingo One treasurer Roger Gionet was one of about 50 people who crammed in a small committee room for the hour and a half bylaw amendment consultation meeting Wednesday night at Tom Davies Square. They wanted their opposition to be well documented.
He joined several speakers in pointing out a total ban on smoking would result in decreased bingo revenue and a big drop in the funds passed on to charities.
Gionet explained there are a minimum number of players that must be in attendance in order to pay for the prize board. Revenue from additional players is split 60 per cent charities, 40 per cent owners.
Â?The charities get nothing or next to nothing if we donÂ?t have those players in addition to the minimum numbers,Â? said Gionet.
Â?Also the owners, if they donÂ?t get those people they have to close shop. This is what happened to four halls in Waterloo, one hall in Guelph, one hall in Ottawa. ThatÂ?s after the 100 per cent smoke free bylaw.Â?
Gionet said a majority of bingo players enjoy smoking.
He noted the experience in those communities that went smoke free is that many bingo players stayed home. Bingo hall owners and charities lost 50 per cent to 100 per cent of the net proceeds.
A lot is at stake in Sudbury if bingo revenue is lost. ItÂ?s estimated 195 local charities raise funds through bingo.
Gionet is also on the board of the food bank and pointed out receipts from just one bingo centre were in excess of $175,000.
President of the Sudbury Food Bank, Hub Bray, told health unit representatives chairing the bylaw meeting that the city will be literally be taking food out of the mouths of school children. ItÂ?s estimated 53 school breakfast programs are funded from bingo receipts.
Â?WeÂ?re doing this to feed the poor,Â? said Bray.
Â?These are people who have been left out in the system where the social safety net has abandoned them, where the welfare payments are not enough, where the working poor are not making it and are forced to go to their churches and other places.Â?
Since 1988 when the central food bank was established over $2.6 million dollars, mostly in food has been distributed locally.
Bray said instead of crushing a wonderful community-based initiative any changes to bingo halls should be grandfathered and those halls must be assisted to comply with any changes.
President of the Valley Bingo Charities Association, Joe Meuleman said with a ton of media attention United Way raised a little over $1 million. Bingo halls in Sudbury raised five times that amount.
Â?I donÂ?t thereÂ?s very many people left around that would argue that smoking is good for you,Â? said Meuleman. Â?ButÂ?in a hall that has a separately ventilated area, which most of the halls in Sudbury now have, the workers do not spend all of their time in the smoking area. Most of them spend very little. Some of them spend none at all.Â?
Other speakers asked if the city were to pass a bylaw that killed bingo charity revenue would the municipality provide funds for programs for those in need.
The city passed a bylaw in 1999 with severe restrictions on smoking. The health unit is in the process of collecting input on an amendment that would result in a 100 per cent ban on smoking in public places and workplaces as of May 31, 2003, plus the phased out of ventilated rooms the following year.
Another public forum is scheduled for Oct. 2 at 7 pm in council chambers.
Council could opt to hold another public session before holding a final vote.