Concerns over the Government of Alberta’s Charitable Gaming Model Review

Back in September 2009, the Hon. Fred Lindsay, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security, responsible for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) appointed a three-member MLA committee to examine aspects of the province’s charitable gaming model. The government of Alberta’s reasoning was that the “committee came in response to concerns from some charities on how proceeds and wait times between events vary throughout the province. Many groups have also reported difficulty in recruiting and retaining enough volunteers to support their activities including casino events.” (see: GOA website)

Volunteer Alberta is concerned about the potential outcome of the charitable gaming model review which was due on March 31, 2010. Part of the reason for the concern is that Culture and Community Spirit Minister Blackett was of the opinion that the 980,000 hours invested by volunteers in casinos can be better spent elsewhere and that these views were made known to the Solicitor General.

Volunteer Alberta and a number of nonprofit and voluntary sector organizations maintain that many of the government’s concerns with the current casino and gaming model being practised in Alberta are unfounded. Volunteer Centre EDs expressed a contrary position indicating that many volunteers want to participate in exactly the kind of special event like a casino where their involvement is confined to a specific date and effort. Groups such as Volunteer Calgary have made submissions to the MLA Committee indicating survey results that casino volunteering was not a barrier to the majority of Volunteer Calgary’s member organizations. Furthermore, as the Calgary Chamber for Voluntary Organizations rightly highlighted, if casinos were fully staffed (without volunteers), there would be no sound rationale for charities to receive revenue from specific casinos.

In the interests of supporting community organizations throughout Alberta, it is crucial that funding commitments through volunteer managed casinos and other Alberta Lottery Fund programs be maintained. In 2008-09, almost 3,500 licensed charities earned $252 million in proceeds from casino events and there are 6,972 charitable organizations eligible to conduct and manage a casino event. It goes without saying that Alberta’s gaming model provides crucial support for a number of organizations in our communities.

Changes to Alberta’s charitable gaming model have the potential to dramatically shift important funding sources for nonprofit and voluntary organizations throughout Alberta.

During times of fiscal austerity, governments will seek alternative revenue sources, including through casinos and gaming. The concern is that if non-profit and volunteer organizations are not able to manage casino, then casino revenues will become part of general government revenues (rather than remaining part of the Alberta Lottery Fund budget stream). Currently, the Alberta Lottery Fund is made up of the government’s share of net revenues gaming, and these revenues total more than $1.5 billion each year, and are used to support thousands of volunteer, public and community-based initiatives annually.

Alberta maintains a unique charitable gambling model compared to other provinces. Some characteristics of this Alberta model include:

  • Each of the 19 traditional charitable casinos facilities can accommodate 182 two-day events per year resulting in almost 3,500 casino events annually.
  • The province is divided into eight casino regions and eligible organizations are assigned to facilities within their area. Based on geographic constraints and current boundaries, waitlists for a casino event range from 16 to 33 months throughout the province.
  • Charities are required to provide between 15 and 25 volunteers per event depending on the size of casino.
  • Between April and June of this year, charitable proceeds, per event, ranged from $18,246 in Medicine Hat to $76,109 in Calgary.

(See here for a breakdown of Alberta Lottery Fund distribution).

The model in Alberta provides organizations with the opportunity to fundraise through casino events. Casino revenues often provide a critical funding base for smaller organizations, which remain heavily reliant upon these funds. While there are some technical problems with the wait times, rural/urban funding differences, and applications processes, there are reasons not to abandon the overall charitable gambling model in Alberta

Organization in Alberta should look to what happened in British Columbia as a result of the way revenues are collected and distributed to nonprofit and voluntary organization. In British Columbia, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the BC government and the British Columbia Association for Charitable Gaming (BCACG) (a non-profit society, representing charities interests in British Columbia) in 1999, which committed one-third of net community casino revenues to charities and NGOs. Since the gaming funds went into general government coffers the BC government, under province-wide budgetary constraints the government felt the need in 2009 to freeze direct access gaming funds for organizations. The government ultimately released 7.95% ($159 million) later in the year, but funding amounts still fell short of the existing one-third commitment.

Non-profit and voluntary sector organizations in Alberta are right to raise concerns that gaming revenues could become one element of all the revenues collected by the government in Alberta. If gaming were to become part of the entire package of government revenue, when budgets begin to tighten, gaming funding might no longer remain a steady source of funding for organizations. This was precisely the problem which occurred in British Columbia, where despite increases in gaming revenues, funding for organizations declined.

Volunteer Alberta is concerned that any reallocation of casino revenues would further aggravate funding challenges facing organizations. Nonprofit and voluntary organizations already face budgetary challenges due to declining government funding stream and private donations. The challenge of replacing any lost income from casino would be compounded by the substantial decline in other provincial funding programs.

Volunteer Alberta hopes the recommendations made by the three-member MLA committee will recognize the importance of Alberta’s charitable gaming model and will not make changes which might adversely affect funding for organizations.