Toronto’s Bingo Halls Stuck in ‘Dark Ages’ Says Bingo Hall Manager

It should come as no surprise that Toronto, Canada has a long relationship with bingo. Since Canada is a former British protectorate the bingo culture was imported from the mother country. Unlike the British Canadians prefer 75 ball American style games to the 90 ball version of the game that is popular in the United Kingdom. At one time Toronto’s bingo halls were packed but lately player numbers have dwindled. For some Toronto bingo players it’s all about winning while older players attend games to pass the time. Despite a loyal following Toronto’s bingo scene has seen a sharp decline over the past decade. Toronto once had 27 bingo halls and now there are only sic left. Of the sic remaining halls four are on the brink of closure.

When the west end Delta Bingo hall opened in 1996 over 600 people would line up for Saturday games. On busy nights crowd sizes would double and the hall would set up tables in the parking lot to handle the overflow. Today the 25,000-square-foot attracts 300 to 400 players in Saturdays. Delta bingo, which shares part of its profits with charities, raised $2.4 million for 74 charitable organizations. The hall has taken a big hit largely because of smoking ban and competition from other forms of gaming that are now available. Mr. Johnstone the manager of the west end hall stated “The real reason for our demise is the fact that we haven’t modernized.”

Johnstone believes that the key to attracting new players is e-bingo. E-bingo is played on flat screen monitors and Johnstone has been seeking government permission to offer the electronic version of bingo for years. Recently the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation gave the go ahead to e-bingo and Johnstone is seeking approval from the Toronto city council. E-bingo has been approved by 12 municipalities in Ontario including Mississauga, Oakville and Richmond Hill. Johnstone said “There is no reason why the rest of the world is able to evolve and we have to be stuck in the dark ages.”

In January of this year a Toronto city council committee said that the city should help charity bingo operators by allowing them to introduce electronic bingo. Toronto charities have seen the take from bingo go from $24 million in 1997 to $7.9 million in 2012. Johnstone stated “There is a solution to this problem and that solution is electronic bingo. All e-bingo needs is your support. We don’t need any funding from you … we just need your approval.” If the city council approves electronic bingo at its next meeting Delta bingo will double its staff to 100 and spend $1 million to upgrade its bingo halls in Toronto.