Cam­paign­ers descend on Dáil to fight law that ‘threat­ens liveli­hoods’

Irish Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Shivé Prema

HUN­DREDS of bingo sup­port­ers will protest at the Dáil today to stop a new law that threat­ens the 4,500-job ac­tiv­ity. The Gam­ing and Lot­ter­ies (Amend­ment) Bill 2019 will see bingo prize money capped at 50%, and cam­paign­ers fear that will put an end to the bond­ing so­cial ac­tiv­ity that dates back decades.

Ac­cord­ing to Save Our Bingo, around 200,000 peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in the ac­tiv­ity – en­joy­ing about 1,000 games ev­ery week. Spokes­woman Alice Smith said the Gov­ern­ment is ‘out of touch’ and try­ing to shut down bingo halls.

‘There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in Ire­land who play bingo each week and we don’t un­der­stand how Leo [Varad­kar] and his Gov­ern­ment can just take it away from them,’ she said.

‘For a lot of peo­ple, it’s their only so­cial

out­let. Without it, they’d just be sit­ting in the house on their own. This will have a ma­jor im­pact on peo­ple’s men­tal health as they won’t have a so­cial out­let to meet friends and en­joy them­selves.’

The ac­tiv­ity has reg­u­larly been de­scribed as a life­line for those liv­ing in iso­lated ru­ral ar­eas.

In Cork, Bingo at the Rock owner John Pur­cell said his busi­ness is likely to close if the amend­ment Bill goes through tomorrow, which will leave 41 peo­ple un­em­ployed.

‘It will dec­i­mate the busi­ness. It means that the com­pet­i­tive play­ers won’t come in be­cause the prize won’t be worth it and other play­ers won’t come in be­cause they’ll just lose money,’ he said.

‘This is half-pot, half-baked leg­is­la­tion. They’re try­ing to amend the 1956 Act by tak­ing us back to the 1930s.’

Cur­rently, his bingo event gives back 75% to 100% of earn­ings, he said. The bingo hall also hosts other so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly for women, such as knit­ting clubs, Pi­lates classes and cof­fee clubs, which will cease to ex­ist if the hall shut. The Bingo Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion launched the Save Our Bingo cam­paign last week in an at­tempt to stop the Bill.

It be­lieves that fewer play­ers will play for a smaller prize pool, which will force halls to shut down.

Cur­rently, the prize pay­out is, on av­er­age, be­tween 75% and 85% of the tak­ings on the game, but if this leg­is­la­tion is signed into law it will be capped at 50%. The bingo in­dus­try also em­ploys about 4,500 peo­ple, some of who could lose their jobs if the Bill goes through.

Twenty large bingo venues across the coun­try, with an over­all seat­ing ca­pac­ity of 12,000-plus, em­ploy 400 peo­ple and at­tract a weekly at­ten­dance of more than 20,000, equat­ing to more than one mil­lion vis­its to these bingo clubs in Ire­land ev­ery year. On top of these there are many bingo nights and events in com­mu­nity halls and GAA clubs across the length

‘Can’t af­ford to lose half the pay-in’

and breath of Ire­land each week, which would bring vis­its to well over two mil­lion a year.

Op­er­a­tors and play­ers have banded to­gether to take a stand against the con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion by sign­ing a pe­ti­tion, which has more than 700 sig­na­tures.

The cam­paign even has sup­port from over­seas bingo halls such as Bingo Stella in Prato, Italy, and Cae­sar’s Bingo in Edmonton, Canada. In Dublin, Deirdre Do­herty, 42, has played bingo for 24 years and is a reg­u­lar at Jack Potts Bingo at The White­hall Grand, which she at­tends with her mother, sis­ter and nephew.

‘I’m from Ca­van and I know what it means to peo­ple in the coun­try. Com­mu­ni­ties will suf­fer if this Bill goes through,’ she said. ‘I know they’re try­ing to do some­thing about gam­bling but bingo isn’t about gam­bling; it’s the so­cial as­pect. If you win, it’s a bonus but that’s not what it’s about.’

Jack’s Pott rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sandy Cole­man said: ‘If the Bill goes ahead as it is, the busi­ness will close. We will try to stay open but from our ex­pe­ri­ence, play­ers will not play. A lot of peo­ple don’t have enough money to lose half of their pay-in ev­ery time they play.’

Bingo Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman Marie McVitty said bingo is wrongly be­ing lumped in with gam­bling and the lottery, ad­ding: ‘I’ve never heard of any­one be­ing ad­dicted to bingo.’

Today’s protest comes af­ter Save Our Bingo cam­paign­ers planned sit-ins yes­ter­day at the of­fices of TDs, in­clud­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pas­cal Dono­hoe.

Bingo rose to pop­u­lar­ity in Ire­land in the 1960s, largely spread through Church bingo. While num­bers at­tend­ing Mass may have di­min­ished, bingo re­mains close to the hearts of thou­sands of peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, con­cerns arose over the seem­ingly min­i­mal amounts re­turned to the lottery li­cence­holder, who must be a char­i­ta­ble cause, by bingo op­er­a­tors act­ing as agents. So the law seeks a max­i­mum of 50% of the pro­ceeds to go to prizes, a max­i­mum of 25% to the char­ity and a max­i­mum of 25% to ex­penses.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said the change would en­sure that char­i­ties re­ceive a fair share from bingo op­er­a­tors.

Ju­nior Min­is­ter David Stan­ton ‘has had ex­ten­sive con­tact with bingo op­er­a­tors’ be­fore push­ing the Bill on, the spokesman said.

The cam­paign has cre­ated a pe­ti­tion page on change-org: Save Our Bingo.

Protests: Cam­paign­ers out­side Min­is­ter Paschal Dono­hoe’s of­fice in Dublin yes­ter­day, seek­ing to halt the change in law

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