By Susan Marsden
A relatively small pot—$159 million—is a lot of money to nonprofits and charities and the people they serve. Until the dark days of 2009, $159 million in gaming grants funded 7,000 service groups.
These include arts organizations; parent advisory councils; societies working for a safer and healthier environment; search and rescue groups; a wide range of youth sports, from swimming and skating to soccer, basketball, and hockey; dance and music festivals; annual fairs, groups supporting people with disabilities; museums; heritage sites; friendship centres; and more. These groups took small amounts of money—an average of $23,000 per charity—added lots of volunteerism, matching funds, and the efficiencies of being small and local, and translated them into tangible, reliable, and important services—identified as necessary by the people in their communities.
The B.C. government’s cuts to gaming grants, currently estimated at between $60 and $77 million (between one-third and one-half) have already resulted in the demise of numerous small organizations across the province and the crippling of many others. The obfuscation and stonewalling that have been the mark of the government’s approach to communication on this issue has made it difficult to grasp the extent of the cuts.
Gaming funds are not discretionary funds; they are funds set aside for nonprofits and charities. They are for the use of the charities who helped create and build an industry. They are for the use of the charities that are currently volunteering months of their time and hard work to help build community gaming centres in their communities so that their bingo funds don’t dry up. They are for the use of the volunteers who work hard within their communities to make them better places to live.
Since the federal government legalized gambling at the turn of the 20th century and during every period of change and expansion in the gaming industry, charities and nonprofits have been acknowledged as de facto recipients of all or a significant portion of revenue from gaming. In fact the public has only accepted the expansion of public gaming because they have been told repeatedly the proceeds go to charities.
In 1999, the province of B.C. made this acknowledgement official when it signed a memorandum of agreement with the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming in which it promised at the very least $125 million plus annual inflation increases to the nonprofits and charities of B.C. The Liberal government acknowledges that they have followed the spirit or policy of this agreement to date and, by 2009, the amount guaranteed to these groups was $159 million.
Now we see the government attempting a sleight of hand redefinition of the money for charities and nonprofits into discretionary funds to be reallocated to government ministries to fund programs already in existence. And we see tragically the attempt to transform a process whereby local nonprofits determine local priorities and local community needs to one where the government decides to eliminate whole sectors, wipe some charities and nonprofits off the map, and tell the rest that they will decide what their community needs!
In other words: no community voice, no diversity, thousands of groups providing valuable public service shut out completely. It’s time to get your dabbers and bingo papers and your poker chips because it looks like many charities are going to have to run their own revenue-generating gaming nights again. Oh right, they made that illegal.
Susan Marsden is the president of the British Columbia Association for Charitable Gaming.