Prince Edward Island government defends bingo investment

Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says money is investment in charities

Teresa Wright
Published on February 25, 2014

 Joyce Jay, left, Marie Hendricken play bingo at the Murchison Centre recently.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan is defending his government’s plans to spend $140,000 to revitalize the bingo industry in Prince Edward Island.

Sheridan says the money is an investment in charities that raise money through the game of bingo.

“It’s not an investment in the game, it’s an investment in charities,” Sheridan said.

Last year, the province spent $22,000 on a 22-page consultant’s report that found revenues for P.E.I.’s bingo industry have plummeted.

Net receipts have dropped by close to 50 per cent, from $1.2 million in 2006-07 to $635,000 in 2011-12.

Increased competition from other gaming facilities, online gaming, an aging demographic of players and a lack of game innovation were cited as the main factors contributing to the decline of ‘the Charitable Bingo sector.’

The smoking ban, which was extended to include bingo halls in 2009, was identified as an additional factor in the decline of bingo’s popularity.

Reid Burke, executive director of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, says his organization has been affected by this loss in revenues.

The not-for-profit Murchison Foundation raises money for the mental health association in P.E.I. through bingo.

“There’s no doubt that the amount of money that we would get from Murchison now, as compared to a number of years ago, is far less and these days it’s harder and harder to generate revenue to support programs and services,” Burke said.

For example, the association has fewer staff members in P.E.I. than it did five years ago, which has limited or stretched mental health promotion programs they offer.

“The impact is we can’t deliver the programs and services in the communities to the same extent that we could five years ago.”

The consultant’s report recommended bingo operators across the Island jointly invest in marketing and promotion of the game to attract new players.

It also says the industry must do more to try to draw younger clientele, as natural attrition is reducing the number of active players.

It further suggested introducing electronic game-play equipment and updated training of bingo operators.

The P.E.I. Lotteries Commission has approved $116,000 in funding to implement suggestions and recommendations in the bingo revitalization report.

Sheridan says this money will only be forwarded if the bingo operators in P.E.I. join together as an association, which has not yet occurred.

Both Burke and Sheridan said non-profit groups that raise money through bingo utilize these revenues to help individuals and communities in Prince Edward Island.

Less money for these organizations could leave vulnerable Islanders with fewer supports.

“This is a charity issue and we have to do as much as we can to make sure that these community groups have the opportunity to do what they’ve done in the past,” Sheridan said.

“It’s a very small investment in a group that has contributed so much to our communities and our charities.”