Charitable gambling takes a dive
Area charitable gambling organizations were dealt a difficult hand: a mandatory statewide smoking ban. Since the Freedom to Breathe Act's implementation October 1, not only has business slowed, charitable contributions to community organizations ...
Area charitable gambling organizations were dealt a difficult hand: a mandatory statewide smoking ban.
Since the Freedom to Breathe Act's implementation October 1, not only has business slowed, charitable contributions to community organizations have been considerably less as well.
"Compared to last year, we're down quite a bit," said Gary Miller, gambling manager at the Eagles Club in Alexandria.
From June to December 2007, gambling revenues were $250,000 less than they were in 2006, the Eagles' best year to date. In December alone, revenues were about $100,000 less than the previous year.
Proceeds from the organization's pull tabs, bingo, paddle wheel and raffles are funneled back into community organizations, such as the Red Cross, schools and senior citizens.
"That's the part that hurts," Miller said. "We haven't been able to do as much donating to the charities because we don't have the money and revenue coming in."
They cut back their annual Jingle Bells contribution, matching funds for fundraisers, and donating to families during the holidays, said Michael Baudrau, past president of the Eagles.
Miller isn't sure, however, if the slower sales can be solely blamed on the ban; winter weather and the holidays could also be factors. "There are too many variables there to say that the smoking ban is the one that did it," he said.
Harvey Chermak, Alexandria VFW gambling manager, feels the same way. "It's a real hard thing to prove one way or the other. Our business is down, that's the fact, that's the truth," he said. "But whether you can attribute it only or all to the smoking ban... personally, I don't think so."
Higher gas prices, heating fuel prices and cost of living as well as the holidays could play a part in the lackluster gambling revenues.
"I don't think that people have the money to play with," said Chermak, who's worked in charitable gambling for 20 years. "Quite frankly, I don't know that we'll ever see the kind of business and volume that we had, say, five or 10 years ago."
The bar's charitable gambling revenues - generated from pull tabs and bingo - declined from about $71,000 in 2006 to $43,000 in 2007.
Cuts like that mean local youth and veteran activities lose out too. Some charitable donations have been reduced, while others have been eliminated altogether.
"We still want to remain as active in the community as we can," Chermak said. "The community supports us, and in turn, we want to support the community."
A former smoker, he can see both sides of the ban's coin and is bothered by the government involvement. "It's an infringement on our rights," Chermak said, adding that he's heard many customers say the same thing. "Where is it going to end?"
How the ban was implemented reminds Joe Syvrud, gambling manager at the Elks Lodge in Alexandria, a little bit of Big Brother. "It's a private club," he said.
Business is down at the Elks too - Syvrud estimated about 12 percent overall compared to 2006 and about 25 percent in pull tabs.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the smoking ban," he said. "They still come down here for the cocktail hour, but they don't stay around."
Miller agreed. "They still may come out, but they won't stay as long. If they're not in a seat for two or three hours, they're not buying as many pull tabs," he said.
He remains optimistic, though, that patrons will return to the bar - and to purchasing pull tabs. "I'm thinking six months is probably going to be where, hopefully, it will start to pick up again," he said.