A chastened Liberal government has raised its gambling-grant total to $120 million for 2010-11, below 2008-09 levels
In hindsight, the juxtaposition was hilarious: For its October symposium on the financial crisis its members were facing, the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming met in a hotel conference room at Richmond’s River Rock Casino. At the time, the BCACG was at war with the provincial government. The government had stiffed them. The Liberals had cut the charities’ grants to the bone. And the source of revenue for those grants? Casinos. But there the charities were, in the belly of the beast, where they could hear the hotel’s public address announcing that the casino was open 24 hours a day — the message being, maybe, that to depend on the avails of gambling is to tread on morally ambiguous ground. Businesswoman Sandy Garossino, a former Crown prosecutor, was invited to speak at the symposium in her capacity as a board member of the Alliance for Arts and Culture. She was also chair of the Alliance’s advocacy task force. What struck her about that meeting, she told me later, was the charity members’ level of distress. Garossino went in under the impression she was attending a seminar; she came out believing she had just witnessed group therapy. “To find myself in a room full of people who had dedicated their lives to volunteering, and knowing the financial trauma they were going through, and seeing how badly they felt, it had a real impact on me.” The experience, she said, compelled her to look more closely at B.C.’s gambling industry. She also volunteered her services and legal expertise to the BCACG. One thing she looked at was how grants in other jurisdictions allowing legalized gambling compared to gambling grants the charities and nonprofits get here. She looked next door, to Alberta. Her conclusion? B.C. did not come off well. For one thing, Garossino said, Alberta’s charities and non-profits are getting a lot more money in the way of government gambling grants. According to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission report on charitable gambling for 2009-10, $323 million in gambling revenues were distributed to 11,306 charitable and non-profit groups in the province. In that same year, the B.C. government distributed $112.5 million to just under 7,000 charities and non-profits. That’s $210.5 million less than what Alberta distributed to its charities. (A chastened Liberal government recently raised its gambling-grant total to $120 million for 2010-11 — which is still $36 million below funding levels for 2008-09.) More importantly, charities and non-profits in Alberta get a prescribed percentage of all net-win gambling revenue that is constant from year to year. The government cannot arbitrarily decide to cut grants to them, as the Liberal government did here in B.C. Indeed, Alberta’s charities and nonprofits take an active part in gambling in the province, and are assigned charity nights at the province’s 24 casinos in which they get a percentage of the proceeds. On top of that guaranteed gambling revenue, charities and non-profits in Alberta can also apply for more monies from the Alberta Lottery Fund, which is made up of the government’s net revenue from VLTs (video lottery terminals), slot machines and ticket lotteries.
That fund earns about $1.5 billion a year. The big picture? Alberta’s charities and nonprofits have a stable income they know they can rely on and budget for annually. They are actively engaged in the gambling industry rather than — as they do in B.C. — standing aside as spectators relying on the government’s largesse. But the efficiency with which Alberta does this, and the profit it generates, is where Garossino turned her attention. In a piece she posted this week on the Vancouver Observer website, Garossino wrote: “Serving a population of 3.7 million, 800,000 less than B.C.’s, the AGLC [Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission] generates $1.4 billion in net [gambling] revenue, compared with our $1.08 billion net. This is a return, by the way, of $378 per capita, compared with BCLC’s performance of $239 per capita.” B.C.’s model, Garossino said to me Wednesday, does not seem competitive. “And it also fails to adequately protect the charities and non-profits that helped build the industry.” For B.C.’s charities and nonprofits, the grass may in fact be greener on the other side of the fence.