Municipal representatives plan to meet with provincial officials to suggest they share the province’s new-found gambling revenue with affected charities. The group also wants changes in bingo regulations to make the games more competitive, such as increasing the prize board (the maximum amount someone can win). “I’m not saying our situation isn’t exacerbated by the smoking bylaw,” Mr. Galloway acknowledges, “but I think it’s clear now that that’s not a major factor.”
Not true, counters Brian Gilmour, president of Cambridge Bingo. Profits at Cambridge only dropped 10% after the provincially-run Mohawk Raceway and Brantford Charity Casino opened in August and October of 1999. But an informal study last fall of Gilmour’s customers found that 70% to 80% of them smoke and Cambridge Bingo revenue dropped another 25% when the regional no-smoking bylaw took effect. Revenues continue to fall. Last year the centre made $2.9 million in profit and donated $1.9 million to 90 charities, including a women’s crisis shelter, Big Brothers Society, a food bank and several minor sports teams. This year Mr. Gilmour is forecasting revenue of about $1.3 million, with $800,000 going to charity.
“I can’t continue much longer,” says Mr. Gilmour, who laid off eight of 30 staff in July. A last-gasp proposed compromise–to enclose smokers in a separate ventilated room–left councillors unmoved. “Smoking is a health issue, so just because bingo revenue is down are we going to allow people to pollute themselves or pollute other people?” asks Mr. Galloway. “To say you can start smoking again in bingo halls is saying health isn’t that important, but charity revenues are.”
Mr. Galloway says the idea of separate bingo halls for smokers is not the answer. Servers, he says, might be non-smokers, and they would still have to enter the smoke-filled rooms.
West Coast designers may have found a way to cater to smokers that even Mr. Galloway can accept. In Vancouver, where a smoking ban took effect in January, Fred’s Uptown Tavern has installed a glass booth that can isolate up to four smokers while allowing them to remain in the same room with non-smokers. But the booth is far from perfect, says Vance Campbell, vice-president of operations for the Granville Entertainment Group which runs Fred’s and two other bars in downtown Vancouver. “About 70% of my clientele smoke, so a modified phone booth won’t fill the bill.”
“Besides,” Mr. Campbell adds, “the city has not decided whether to allow alcohol in such booths.” He reports that since B.C.’s smoking ban began, company revenues have dropped 20%.
B.C.’s smoking ban was first initiated by the Workers’ Compensation Board under the guise of promoting worker health, and then taken up by the City of Vancouver in March a week after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein threw out the WCB rules. Madam Justice Stromberg-Stein said the ban posed a “significant” risk to the private economic interests of both employers and workers and unfairly forced employers to act as police. Her decision will provide ammunition for bingo hall operators in Waterloo Region, who are also suing over the enforcement provisions of the smoking bylaw (owners have to eject smokers or face fines of $5,000).
Meanwhile, some observers are asking why modern governments are so insistent on banning smoking. “The government is trying to protect people from themselves,” Mary Lou Gutscher told the 200 delegates from 25 countries who attended the July World Liberty Conference in London, Ont., last month. “It forgets that its primary legitimate role is to protect people’s rights.”
“Libertarians support the right to life and to private property,” says Ms. Gutscher, herself a former smoker. “People should be free to do what they wish with both.” But a loss of individual liberty is the price Canadians pay for transferring responsibility for healthcare to government.
“It’s their choice [to smoke] and it should be their risk,” Ms. Gutscher says. “No one else should make that decision for them.”