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Charities chose not to gamble on 1999 funding agreement

The executive director of the B.C. Association of Charitable Gaming is complaining about charities' reduced share of gambling money, according to a front-page story in today's Victoria Times-Colonist.

At issue is the meaning of a 1999 memorandum of agreement signed by the BCACG's then president Robert MacInnes and then New Democratic Party minister of employment and investment, Mike Farnworth (now an NDP MLA).

The province, the agreement said, “Reaffirms its commitment to the existing charitable guarantee of a minimum $125 million annually, indexed annually at the rate of Vancouver CPI, with a formula that ensures charity entitlement to an amount, after accounting for retained bingo revenues, equal to 1/3 of ongoing government net community casino gaming revenue.”

The TC story quotes the BCACG's executive director Cheryl Ziola saying the agreement means one-third of net gambling revenues will go to charities. “It's right there in black and white . . . We have not heard of any new legislation that contravenes our [agreement].”

That means charities that will get $160 million this year are entitled to about twice that much, the story said, adding the association's lawyers are looking at the 1999 agreement and may sue the government.

The thing is, Ziola's BCACG predecessor Betty Gilbert interpreted the agreement differently.

According to a 2004 Vancouver Sun article, Gilbert said that in 1999 the BCACG negotiated a fixed amount of $125 million a year, with increases indexed to inflation. With the then likely-to-be-elected Liberals talking tough on gambling, the association chose not to gamble on more gambling money.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” the Sun quoted Gilbert saying.

But with gambling revenues skyrocketing under the B.C. Liberal government, the Sun noted, the roughly two percent annual increase was “puny compared to the dramatic increase in overall gambling revenues.”

Said Gilbert in 2004, “We've got to go back to the table and look at this . . . The projection over the next few years is that quite a lot more money is going to come from gaming.”

Representatives of the BCACG did not return calls this morning.

A Housing and Social Development spokesperson said ministry officials are looking for material explaining the agreement the government has with the BCACG.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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