The provincial government’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch (GPEB) has effectively shut down the Rotary Community Online Bingo.
As of Aug. 25, the GPEB policy on Charitable Licensing reverted back to its pre-COVID rules and will no longer issue bingo licenses to non-profit organizations like Rotary Clubs that enable players to scan and email bingo cards.
“We are all disappointed,” said Rossland Rotarian Fiona Martin. “The Canadian Clubs of the Rotary District 5080 have come together to provide this opportunity, and we have found a new sense of community and connection with the other clubs.”
According to Section 10.5 of the BC Licensed Charity Gaming Rules the scanning and emailing of Class A and B raffle tickets is allowed, however, “the scanning and emailing of bingo cards is not permitted.”
“The people who play bingo are also disappointed,” said Martin. “We have drawn people together in trying times. They are from all over the province, and many have become good friends, even visited each other in their various communities.”
Martin also points out that many who play are homebound or from small towns and unable to access casinos or other bingo venues.
“COVID is still a serious concern for many of our players who are elderly or immuno-compromised, and they depend on their Friday night entertainment,” said Martin. “They are playing because they know that Rotary funds go to great places, and they are enjoying the community feel for the game.”
In April 2020, the gaming branch adapted its rules due to COVID restrictions and accommodated online Bingo events.
Rotarians in the City of Golden were the first to start the popular online Bingo that same month, and was soon supported by all 17 Rotary Clubs in the Kootenays including those in Castlegar, Rossland, Waneta and Trail, and now across B.C.
Club volunteers contribute their time, with half the Bingo money going into the prize pot, and the other half shared among Rotary Clubs. The clubs then invest those funds back into the community, supporting non-profits and organizations that develop health and well-being, improve the environment, aid in child development, and others.
“Locally, the Waneta, Trail and Rossland Clubs have united to fund projects that have a big impact on our community, let alone the ones that we have chosen to support other projects at the club level,” said Martin. “Together, the district clubs have made significant donations to several large organizations in B.C. such as Joanna’s House and the BC SPCA.
“Without the money generated from the online Bingo, we will lose a significant amount of money that is being donated to the communities we serve.”
Castlegar Rotarian Staci Martini said she realizes that allowing the scanning and emailing of Bingo cards was a temporary solution in a time of uncertainty.
“We appreciate the opportunity we have been given over the last two years to build this incredible online platform,” Martini wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “Rotary Community Online Bingo has developed into so much more than ‘just a bingo’ in our local communities.
“We have become a provincial community, a safe space of support and connection for so many of us.”
As of April, 2022, Kootenay Rotarians have collectively donated over $500,000 to various groups in their respective communities.
Castlegar Rotary has since consulted with the gaming branch to try to find ways to keep the game going, but to no avail.
“So it is with immense sadness that we at Rotary Community Online Bingo inform our players and, more importantly, you, our friends, that December 30, 2022 will be our last game.”
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General responded to a Trail Times query, and clarified that when a bingo licence period exceeds Dec. 31, 2022, the licensees will be required to transition bingo card distribution to a manual process — meaning by mail or in-person pick-up.
“However, licensees will still be permitted to utilize live streaming for licensed Bingo events, which would allow purchasers to participate virtually within B.C.”
Yet, all Bingo events require a licence and must use BCLC Bingo paper purchased from its distribution centre.
Bingo advocates are recommending people contact their MLAs directly and/or the gaming branch to share their concerns.
Martini invites the community to make the final two months a memorable and lucrative one for Kootenay Rotary communities.
“We want to take the next two months to highlight and reflect on this group’s amazing contribution to communities and non-profits across the province,” she added. “Thank you for your continued support of Rotary and each other! There are big plans in the making to make sure we go out with a BANG!”
Rotary Bingo will go every Friday until Dec. 30. Bingo cards can be purchased by e-transfer until noon the following Friday, but are only valid for one game day.
Go to golden-rotary.myshopify.com to buy cards or search Facebook for Rotary Community Online Bingo.