Marc-André Clément is aware of the decline of the industry.
I don’t see a future, unless there are major changes, says this 33-year-old entrepreneur who has just bought the bingo halls in Saint-Eustache and Lachine, in Montreal, from his parents.
In his 12-year career, he has had the opportunity to see many fellow room managers go out of business. At the time of the last bingo reform, in 2008, there were 52 commercial halls in Quebec. There were only 31 left at the start of 2020 and only 24 are still active after the pandemic.
When a bingo hall closes in a community, it is terrible for OBNL. They have no more money to help the poorest in society, laments Marc-André Clément, who himself benefited from the services of non-profit organizations (NPOs) during a more tumultuous period of his youth.
About 60% of the net earnings (card sales minus prizes awarded) go to the venue manager and 40% goes to local community organizations. Before the pandemic, 400 OBNLshared a little over $ 11 million per year. But with the definitive closure of some venues, only 255 still receive donations.
The Saint-Eustache hall, for example, normally gives $ 1 million per year to some fifteen community organizations.
Due to COVID and containment, there has been very little fallout over the past year. This is what I want to avoid in the longer term, says Marc-André Clément.
At the Racine-Lavoie Mutual Aid Center, which offers food aid, the usual bingo profits are around $ 50,000 to $ 60,000, which represents 10% of the annual budget.
It would take a lot of spaghetti dinners to get $ 50,000 a year, says director Dominique Bastenier. It would take time and energy, whereas here we can concentrate on our mission.
In search of more flexibility
The managers of commercial bingo halls would like certain rules to be relaxed in order to rejuvenate their clientele.
We have to modernize. It’s impossible to continue playing bingo like we did thirty years ago, affirms Éric Castonguay, general manager of the Bingo Secretariat.
According to him, Quebec should review the framework for charitable gaming, which includes bingo, as Ontario and Alberta have done.
All the provinces that have started a modernization program have had results. Not only have revenues and profits distributed to organizations increased, but there are also more organizations benefiting from these spinoffs.
The Bingo Secretariat is currently in discussions with the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux to review some of the 160 articles of law governing the industry. He asks in particular that the rooms have the right to offer electronic games to their customers, in addition to the traditional parts. The devices currently found on some tables are validators only.
This technology was used in US states over 15 years ago. We are able to keep up to date and be at the forefront of a 21st century entertainment industry, emphasizes Éric Castonguay.
Managers would also like to serve alcohol in the room, rather than just in an adjoining bar.
In some provinces, they have split the room in two to create a lounge atmosphere, with a liquor license on one side, explains Marc-André Clément.
More flexibility in arrival and departure times would also help attract new customers, believes the Bingo Secretariat. Currently, customers must enter the room before the start of the session and purchase cards for all games. Given that the afternoon or evening lasts nearly three hours, it is too long for some potential customers, according to Eric Castonguay, of the Bingo Secretariat.
We would like it to be one hour sessions and people to be able to buy cards just for the number of sessions they want to play. Unfortunately, the regulations are not suited to this type of model.
Marc-André Clément remains optimistic. He hopes to succeed in modernizing the industry.
I just want to have a better deal for my clients. If my clients are happy, the room will be fine. If the room is going well, the NPOs are doing well. And the future of the family is secure.
The young father of a family already dreams of passing the torch to his daughters one day.
I would like one day, if my children obviously want it, to pass on to them what was transmitted to me. Community values and how lucky I am to love my job.
However, in order to pass the family business on to the third generation, he must first take over from his customers.