Charities hit jackpot with expanded bingo
Five dauber marks. That's all that stands between a player and the jackpot. Starting Saturday, local bingo enthusiasts can experience that thrill three times a week.
With final approvals in place from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the Orillia Geneva Bingo for Charity will start running sessions Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon in addition to its Saturday evening bingo.
The jump from one to three sessions doesn't just mean more games per week. It also means more revenue for the 19 charities that are involved with running the bingos.
"We hope that it will, maybe not triple our revenue, but certainly increase it," said Laurie Neill, one of the managers of the hall. "Charities will get to run one every six weeks instead of one every 18 weeks."
Revenue is pooled and then distributed to 19 local charities, who supply volunteers to help run the sessions on a rotating basis.
When the Gates of Orillia bingo hall, which ran bingo seven nights a week, closed in 2005, it left 37 charities without bingo revenue.
"We (charities) were without any revenue for nine or 10 months," said Neill who also represents the Quota Club. "We were all struggling to find alternate sources."
At that time, five charities came together to run their own bingo hall. They approached the other organizations that had benefitted from the Gates of Orillia and 14 others came on board, for a total of 19 charities.
With the support of the city -- which issued the licence to run once a week -- and help from the Community Development Corporation, they opened the Orillia Geneva Bingo in July of 2006 with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 34 acting as the lead organization.
One session a week didn't produce anything close to the revenue that the charities had shared from the Gates of Orillia, but Neill said it was one solution while the bingo association worked on obtaining a class C bingo hall licence.
It's been a long process, said Rick Purcell, another manager with the West Street South bingo hall, who also represents the legion. One of the reasons, he thinks, was because many people just weren't sure how to go about opening a new bingo hall.
"This is the first bingo in Ontario that's been opened in eight years," he said.
Being approved for the class C bingo hall-- which allows for three sessions in a seven-day period -- will give charities an additional boost.
"It's still not going to be the same level but it's a step forward," said Neill.
The Couchiching Terriers hockey club is one of the organizations that benefit from the bingo. Governor Dave Dunn said revenue from the bingo hall is "very, very important."
The team can use funds received from bingo events for items such as ice bills, the purchase of team equipment or offsetting bus costs for away games.
Back when the Gates of Orillia was operating, he said funds could reach as high as $35,000 to $40,000 a year.
With only one session a week for the past 27 months, those dollar figures are much lower, but the move to three times a week may boost that.
"I'm not saying we'll make millions of dollars, but it will help," said Dunn, noting the increase in sessions means the opportunity to run "superjackpots" and break-open tickets. "You have the possibility of having more dollars generated."
In fact, Purcell said over the next few weeks the association will apply to run both superjackpots and break-open tickets.
The possibility of more dollars from their involvement with the bingo is a welcome one for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia
"The mere fact that we're not government-funded is one of the main things, so we need to find alternate sources," he said. "Any additional financial resources that come our way help us."
With an average turnout of between 150 and 160 people at the Saturday evening bingo, Purcell said he thinks the addition of the extra sessions, especially the Sunday afternoon bingo, will attract new people. When gathering feedback to decide when to run the extra bingos, he said some seniors indicated they would like an afternoon session.
"We don't think we're going to triple the money, but we're hoping to get two and half times," he said. "That's going to be real financial gain for the 19 charities. We've been looking forward to this."
Evening bingos start at 6:30 p. m. and the Sunday matinee begins at 1 p. m.