HELP US TO SAVE BINGO
Campaigners descend on Dáil to fight law that ‘threatens livelihoods’
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