Almost half of bingo revenue goes to Quebec charities, but the amount of money halls are raising is in free fall.
Revenue is down 30 per cent over the past five years, according to the Secrétariat du Bingo, which represents the industry.
Halls are going out of business too. In 1997, there were 176 halls; today there are only 52.
"We have to do something in the short term, or we won't be in business for long," says Benoit Bougie, who owns five bingo halls in and around Montreal.
Bougie and others are pinning their hopes on a trial that would allow them to offer electronic bingo and other gaming in their halls. But they need the finance minister's approval.
Public safety minister supports request
They already have the support of the Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault, who oversees bingo licences. She wrote a letter to Leitao last week encouraging him to give the go ahead. In her letter, she Thériault said 800 charities depend on bingo revenue.
"I'm sure that like other provinces it will be profitable for charities and the owner," says Bougie, whose family started its bingo business as a fundraiser in a church basement more than 40 years ago.
Critics worry about increased gambling
But gambling critic Sol Boxenbaum believes it's a bad idea.
"I think the introduction of any new [gambling] opportunity always comes with it the problem of creating more people who pick up an addiction," he says.
Boxenbaum points to numbers from the coroner's office that show one suicide every sixteen days in Quebec related to gambling.
"There's nothing wrong with people going to bingo to spend some time with friends and neighbours. When it becomes a problem is when they start going because they need to win money to pay the phone bill or buy groceries," says Boxenbaum.
"And it's becoming a bigger and bigger percentage that you'll find in the bingo hall that are not there as a social activity."
A spokesperson for Leitao says he is reviewing the request.
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