This was the impetus for a real and unique partnership between the CGAO, the OCGA, and the OLG: to revitalize the industry in order to better support the thousands of charities and not-for-profits across Ontario, who remain the main beneficiaries of the net proceeds. Simply put, we wanted to ensure that charities could keep winning. So, starting in 2006, the partnership launched six sites to pilot new electronic forms of bingo.
During this time, these six sites implemented a limited range of products, and commercial operators and charities worked side-by-side to evaluate the impact. The feedback and lessons they provided were invaluable.
Charities and not-for-profits raised $161,000,000 in 2010/2011 from all forms of charitable gaming (bingo, BOTs and raffles). Think of all the women’s shelters, children’s services, children’s sports programs, health and disability services, educational programs, and food banks (to name a few) that rely on grants to provide their services. But how sustainable would this funding be if the charitable gaming model didn’t evolve?
Clearly, offering a new experience for charitable gaming demonstrated there was, and is, an opportunity to grow direct revenues for charities and communities. This allowed us to develop and obtain government approval for a broader re-configuration across the charitable gaming industry, hence the Revitalization of Charitable Bingo and Gaming Initiative.
To date, it is estimated that the six pilot centres have already raised over $43 million for Ontario charities, which has exceeded our initial forecast.
Enter: The Charitable Gaming Revitalization Initiative
Developed after extensive research and consultation, the initiative focuses on three key business drivers: customer service, facilities, and products. The goal was straightforward: By synchronizing efforts to deliver enhanced customer service in a place where customers want to spend their social time, and by using a variety of new products and technology, the entertainment experience will change. And once the entertainment experience begins to change, the industry will also renew itself.
“We knew that the customer experience was evolving,” says Ms. Cassidy. “More and more, game play is taking place on electronic devices, so the key was to offer alternatives. By bringing new products and technologies into charitable bingo and gaming centres, we hoped to work with commercial operators and charities to invigorate the traditional bingo experience.”
To that end, a committee, made up of CGAO, OCGA, and OLG members was formed to develop concepts for phase one. Exciting games included an eBingo Base Gaming System, POD (Personal Play on Demand) games, BOT (Break Open Tickets) dispensing unit, eShutterboard, eInstants, eBOTs, and Rapid Draw Bingo. All are currently played in traditional bingo – we just looked at a different delivery model by leveraging technology.
In order to allow the addition of electronic devices to traditional play, the revitalization model was structured as follows:
• First and foremost, the legal framework was changing under 207(1) (a) of the Criminal Code of Canada to allow charitable bingo and gaming centres to operate electronic devices.
• OLG will fulfill its “conduct & manage” responsibility through services contracts with commercial operators, charities, and municipalities.
• Commercial operators will manage all day-to-day operations, providing facilities and renovation investment, staffing, site advertising and promotion, and customer care management.
• In exchange for a share of the proceeds, charities will have a meaningful support role in the charitable gaming centre and will promote public awareness of how the funds raised benefit local charities and the community.
• Municipalities will maintain their current role and responsibilities for a share of the revenue.
Signing on to the eBingo initiative is about choice for charities, operators, and municipalities. No charitable bingo and gaming centre will be forced to change from the current paper-based games to the new model with the addition of electronic devices. But if all parties agree, the commitment will begin with the commercial operators, as a significant investment is required.
Commercial operators have to agree to invest in upgrading their facilities, in staff training, development and demonstrated knowledge, and to implementing the Responsible Gambling program for this initiative in combination with the OLG team. Social responsibility has always been a critical component of the program.
Charities will see the license fees eliminated, significantly reduced expenses, and more manageable roles and responsibilities in order to preserve volunteerism. They will continue to play a critical role in the day-to-day operation of the facility in order to receive a share of the revenues. While their engagement with their communities has been tremendous, it has also been poorly understood and the impact not fully realized. With this initiative, we wish to change that in order to present a higher profile of the remarkable work these charities and non-profits undertake on a daily basis in the communities where they operate.
As before, municipalities will have a very important role, but with reduced administration. They will also continue to receive revenues for administrative tasks, but through a contract with the OLG, rather than fees from charities. For bingo centres that may not wish to implement full eBingo gaming, there will be some standalone products offered in the future while remaining under the current legal framework. We have set out to enhance the entertainment experience for our customers by delivering a unique and differentiated set of products, facilities, and services you can’t find in a casino, at a racetrack, or through retail lottery.
Making the switch
We are very excited about the Revitalization Initiative. With the changes in place, we anticipate that, over time, we will create a stabilized charitable gaming industry with growth potential, a new entertainment experience that will appeal to current customers and attract news ones, and build a stronger industry brand. Together, this will help develop strong communities thanks to the ongoing work of the local charities and not- for-profit groups that receive direct benefits from the bingo activities and can now implement an easier and more manageable process.
The first targeted charitable bingo and gaming centre to switch over (part of a group that will transition during the late summer and fall) is Valley Bingo Centre, in Sudbury, which occurred at the end of August.
“I am thrilled about the opportunities that the Charitable Gaming Revitalization Initiative has created for all charitable bingo and gaming centres in Ontario,” says Michael Orser, Executive Vice President, Boardwalk Gaming & Entertainment. “The level of collaboration between all stakeholders is unprecedented. Together, we are committed to providing a unique entertainment experience for the benefit of our customers, the operators, but most importantly the charities and our communities.”
A number of other charitable bingo and gaming centres will also transition during 2013. This switch enables participating charities to sustain and grow their revenues, thereby building and supporting more community programs, and generating local employment and community- level economic benefits. And this does represent the best of what our industry can do.
By Peter McMahon is CEO, Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario