With charity gaming on the decline, it’s fallen on industry stakeholders to pursue creative solutions for attracting and retaining gaming clientele. One such solution in British Columbia has been the creation of ‘community gaming centres’; dramatically renovated or relocated purpose-built gaming facilities that have been repositioned to include slot machines, expanded social spaces (in addition to bingo) and better service to the communities in which they are planted.
The concept for community gaming centres was introduced by the BCLC in 2004 on direction from the government and in response to a need for a revitalization of charity gaming in B.C. Working with existing bingo hall operators and local municipalities, BCLC has since facilitated the opening of 15 community gaming centres across B.C. in locations such as Dawson Creek, Kelowna and Langley.
“The conversion to community gaming centres made sense because the process involved partners who were used to dealing with each other,” says Jordan Gnat, President and CEO Boardwalk Gaming & Entertainment, explaining: “The idea of moving forward on these centres was something that the stakeholders wanted to do. The provincial government provided the necessary mandate and we worked together with BCLC to get it done.”
A common misconception about community gaming centres is that they are bingo halls with slot machines. This, insists Gnat, is far from the case: “It’s not as simple as pulling up a truck and loading slot machines; the investment in these facilities can run anywhere from $7 to $15 million dollars. These are significant projects that require significant capitol.
Speaking to the true intent, he adds: “The idea was absolutely about repositioning the old bingo halls into ‘Chances Community Gaming Centres’ and give the customers a full suite of entertainment options, including bingo, keno, slots, high quality food service and an overall fun experience.”
While the concept behind community gaming centres is straightforward, the process by which they are created can be a game of chance in of itself. All totalled, it can take up to five years to see a community gaming centre through from opening negotiations, municipality proceedings, planning, building and final ribbon cutting ceremonies. While this can be daunting, Gnat notes: “If your message is right and the municipality is willing, you can be successful in getting your proposal approved. It requires tremendous patience.”
One element that has proven helpful in this process is the standards set by BCLC, which were developed in consultation with local operators. Explains Darryl Schiewe, vice-president of Casino and Community Gaming for BCLC: “BCLC has rigorous standards for both the actual facility and the operation of community gaming centres. Our view as an organization is to redevelop or, in most cases, purpose-build facilities to high standards. In many municipalities, the community gaming centre is the marquee facility offering excellent food and beverage, entertainment and gambling options.”
Regarding its ongoing relationship with BCLC, Gnat adds: “They are our most important partner, and we value the relationship. Naturally, whenever there is a new initiative there are growing pains for both parties, but we are always trying to work to improve the business together in an effort to optimize the opportunity for all stakeholders and ensure the customers continue to have the best possible experience.”
And the partnership appears to be working. Community gaming centres have provided a significant increase to BCLC’s revenues over the past several years and, last year alone, Schiewe notes that local governments that host community gaming centres received over $7.6 million from the province in host local government share payments.
Says Gnat: “In most cases it’s been a win-win-win situation; the operator wins, BCLC wins, and the community wins.”
With this in mind, BCLC expects to continue the evolution to community gaming centres at a gradual pace. “We believe we made the right move in developing the community gaming centre model,” says Schiewe, adding: “These facilities are sized right for their market and raise the bar in terms of standards and customer experience. With so much competition for entertainment dollars, we feel strongly that this model will help sustain our local gaming business and, in turn, the gaming dollars that go back to communities.”
By Matthew Bradford