Oakville’s last bingo hall, Oakville Delta Bingo, will close its doors on Wednesday, Oct. 31 — Halloween — laying off its 40 employees and depriving local charities of an important source of revenue.
Cam Johnstone, owner of the Speers Road facility, confirmed this week with The Oakville Beaver, the impending closure.
He blames it on the Town of Oakville’s decision to hold off on signing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s (OLG) Charitable Gaming Centre Agreement (CGCMA).
The agreement would permit the introduction of e-Bingo at the Oakville Delta Bingo facility.
However, some aspects of the contract — and the OLG’s unwillingness to change them — have raised concerns at Town Hall.
Councillors have said the existing language of the agreement could allow the introduction of slot machines and Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) without the municipality’s input.
The contract’s exit clause, which currently binds the Town to a 16-year contract while the OLG has a 90-day exit clause, was another point of concern — as were issues related to cost-recovery and what’s deemed appropriate reciprocity.
Johnstone has said the infusion of modern gaming equipment offered by the agreement is essential to revitalizing his business, which has been losing money for some time.
With the approval of the agreement nowhere in sight, Johnstone said his business cannot continue.
“It’s a huge disappointment to us. Oakville is the community where our head office is, we love this community, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done here,” said Johnstone.
“We’ve got employees who have worked (at this bingo location) for 25 years. We’re very saddened that their jobs weren’t taken seriously and the charities that work so hard to raise money for this community weren’t taken seriously when we put our request to modernize forward.”
Johnstone said the decision is unfortunate not only for Oakville Delta Bingo’s 40 employees, but for the 34 local charities who raise upwards of $750,000 in revenue at the bingo hall annually.
Town council is expected to take another look at the agreement this fall.
Johnstone said if that meeting ends with e-Bingo being permitted then he would not only reopen Oakville Delta Bingo and rehire his employees, but double his workforce.
Oakville Ward 5 Town and Regional Councillor and acting-mayor Jeff Knoll said that while he feels for the bingo hall’s employees and the local charities, he and the rest of council have a responsibility to the community as a whole.
“Nothing has changed for us in terms of any satisfaction from the OLG or in terms of a change of contract,” said Knoll.
“We can’t be bullied into making public policy based on the licensee trying to force our hand, which he has been trying to do since day one by making these suggestions.”
Knoll said a past referendum found the majority of Oakville residents are not in favour of gambling taking place within the town and it is for that reason council has refused to sign OLG’s agreement.
The OLG, he said, has yet to give council assurances gambling devices, such as slot machines, will not be introduced through this agreement.
Knoll said council cannot ignore the concerns of the entire community and make public policy to meet the needs of one business.
“There was some degree of comfort when Mr. Johnstone had an agreement with the Province that he could veto (specific) games and now the Province has even taken that away,” said Knoll.
“At this point in time, there is no comfort level for myself or the majority of the members of council and we need to see the process through.”
Johnstone said the Town has invented an issue where one did not exist.
Ron Agley, who has worked at the Speers Road bingo location for the past 25 years, urged both sides to come together and reach a resolution.
“I’m very, very upset,” said Agley, choking back tears.
“Nobody wants to give an inch.”
Agley said he is not concerned about losing his job, but about the seniors who attend the bingo hall.
For some, he said, playing a few games of bingo is their only social activity and he wonders where they will go when the bingo hall closes.
While he said he couldn’t speak for the rest of council, Knoll said he would support charitable bingo gaming within Town facilities if the gaming community so desired.
“I think at the end of the day this would probably turn more money over to the charitable community,” said Knoll.