The Kevin Files: Memorandum of Agreement on Gaming Policy
On June 17, 1999, the Province of BC signed an agreement with the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming (BCACG). This contract provides a number of principles which should govern the relationship of these two entities. At the press conference this morning, MLA Spencer Herbert referred to this agreement and stated that it was still in effect. The BCACG also referenced this agreement in recent news stories, declaring that the BC government is not living up to its commitments.
Among other things, the agreement affirms the role of licenced charities as the sole beneficiaries of bingo gaming, including both paper and electronic bingo. It also offers a commitment of a minimum of $125 million annually, indexed annually at the rate of Vancouver CPI, with a formula that ensures charity entitlement to an amount, after retained bingo revenues, equal to 1/3 of ongoing government net community casino gaming revenue. And, it promises that the Province will consult in a meaningful way with charities in the development of gaming policy changes that may affect charities.
From a review of the BCACG history and of the past several years of annual reports on the BC Gaming web site, it appears that the Province has generally been distributing to community groups an amount roughly equivalent to the guarantee of $125 million annually with price index increases. However, according to Table B of the Annual 2008/09 Report, the actual amount equivalent to 1/3 of ongoing government net community casino gaming revenue is approximately $252.7 million - significantly higher than the total distributed amount of $156.3 million (which I believe may be equivalent to the $125 million guarantee plus price index). I also need to mention that $49 million of the $156.3 million distribution came from bingo revenue - and the agreement seems to state that this bingo revenue funding must go to charities in addition to 1/3 of the casino gaming. So, if you do the math that way, distribution to charities should have been another $145.4 million in 2008/09 alone.
With the current year's cuts to arts groups and expected cuts to other organizations (named targets include environmental groups, adult sports groups and alumni associations), it seems clear that the BC provincial government does not intend to distribute the full $159 million to charitable organizations that it had originally promised. Instead, Minister Coleman has stated that the money is needed to fund other programs including the CommunityLINK program and the B.C. Arts Council (both of which were previously funded by other government sources). Nor were these recent policy changes resulting in rejections of gaming grant applications and refusals of multi-year grant commitments proceeded by any meaningful consultation with the charitable sector. Instead, the action taken was unilateral and no reconsiderations or reviews will be permitted - contrary to the letter and spirit of this 1999 agreement as well as existing published policies of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch.
The BCACG claims this agreement is still binding on today's provincial government. However, the agreement was signed in 1999 when the Lottery Act was in force - it has been repealed and replaced by the Gaming Control Act which came into effect on August 19, 2002. Certainly the formula for charitable distribution contemplated in the agreement is not included in the Gaming Control Act, its accompanying regulations or in the minister's directives which are all publicly available through the web site of the BC Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch.
To read the entire two-page agreement, click here.