Quebec Looks to Expand Bingo Titles in Order to Spur Slowing Market

innerquebec06052015innerquebec06052015The Canadian bingo industry is lobbying for help from Finance Minister Carlos Leitao in order to introduce electronic versions of the popular game, as well as other titles, in halls across Quebec. Over the past five years, revenue has declined by nearly a third, with many of the province’s halls going out of business. In 1997, Quebec and the surrounding region was host to 176 individual bingo halls, but today, there are only 52 remaining.

We have to do something in the short term, or we won’t be in business for long,” stated Benoit Bougie, owner of five bingo halls in the Montreal area and a 40 year veteran of the local bingo industry.

The acceptance of electronic bingo has the support of the industry, but it all depends on the finance minister’s approval before further action can be taken. In addition to industry support, bingo hall operators have a strong political ally in Public Safety Minister Lise Theriault, who oversees the approval of bingo licenses throughout the province. According to Theriault, there’s more at stake than a simple pastime for the region’s citizens.

Approximately 50 percent of all bingo revenue goes directly to Quebec charities, creating significant cause for concern as the industry’s numbers continue to decline. Theriault estimated that as many as 800 charities depend on bingo revenue to operate, giving the industry additional leverage as it continues to await the Finance Minister’s decision. With the electronic model already having been proven successful in other provinces, there’s substantial precedent to support the approval.

I’m sure that like other provinces it will be profitable for charities and the owner,” stated Bougie.

On the flipside, the normal arguments against the gambling industry are in play to oppose the reform’s approval. Gambling critic Sol Boxenbaum has been among the most vocal about the potentially negative consequences of increasing the size of the gambling industry.

“I think the introduction of any new [gambling] opportunity always comes with it the problem of creating more people who pick up an addition,” Boxenbaum said. To illustrate his point, Boxenbaum also referenced reports from the coroner’s office that estimated suicides occurred once every 16 days as a result of gambling in Quebec.

So, where will Finance Minister Leitao fall on the issue? A spokesperson for the official indicated that he is still reviewing the request, and no date for a decision was given. Ultimately, the outcome will likely follow the tried and tested formula of weighing the significant positive economic impacts that gambling facilities present as compared to the possibility of negative societal consequences.

The continued growth in popularity of bingo has made it a formidable option for creating significant boosts to tax revenue without impacting normal taxation rates. As the game continues to make leaps in important markets around the globe, look for social concerns to persist as the only opponent of allowing bingo hall operation. Particularly in Quebec, the benefits provided to charitable institutions should help the industry make moves towards a recovery going forward.