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Under the 'b' for balance

Bingo revenues help communities but some say the game can be dangerous

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Dec 12/01) - The end justifies the means. That's the harsh reality of many organizations in the North that depend on bingo revenues to survive.

Myrna Michon has been the executive director of the Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet for the past 43 months.

Bingo numbers are called over the airways of the vast majority of local radio stations in the North. While radio bingo is often more lucrative, it lacks the social aspects of hall bingo. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

Michon says it might sound cold to say, but the times of the month money comes into the hamlet are common knowledge among community organizations.

She says those needing to raise funds know when government paycheques, child welfare payment and elder benefits arrive.

"Everybody's aware of these dates because you know there's a large infusion of money coming into the community," says Michon.

"Organizations are quite aware of this and if you get to pick any of your bingo days, you choose one of these dates.

"The hamlet allocates a number of bingo dates a month to itself and they're not stupid over there. They're going to take the dates that will provide the most revenue to them."

The friendship centre runs a number of community-orientated programs.

The amount of money being spent in the community on bingo, versus the good that money does for an organization, is something centre staff wrestle with constantly.

Michon says there's no denying a huge sum of money is spent every month on bingo and each organization deals with the psychological aspects in its own way.

"You can't sugarcoat the fact bingo is gambling," she says.

"But, if we didn't get our dates, they would go to another organization. The end justifies the means. That's the only way I can say it."

Michon says bingo dates should only be given to organizations running programs that help the community.

She's not in favour of giving bingo dates so 10 people can travel to Winnipeg or a group can buy prizes for a fishing derby.

"Most people see the advantage of bingo when you're benefitting a large group. How else are you going to raise the money for worthwhile programs in Kivalliq hamlets?"

Bingo balance essential

While radio and TV bingo tend to raise more funds, hall bingo adds a social element by bringing people together.

Bishop Reynald Rouleau runs the St. Theresa Guest Home in Chesterfield Inlet and has a long history in the North.

The bishop says the Roman Catholic Church has never taken a stance against bingo.

"Bingo creates a difficult dilemma for many people," says the bishop.

"It can be a fun game to play and a worthwhile social activity within a community. The problem is, of course, some people get addicted to the game."

Rouleau agrees that the most positive aspect of bingo is that revenues stay in the community and often help worthwhile causes.

The bishop perfectly illustrates the catch-22 situation surrounding bingo with his own approach to the game.

Rouleau has never promoted bingo, nor has he ever spoken out against it. He says all you can do is hope community organizations don't let bingo reach the point where people are suffering due to it.

"I've never written any ethical reflections or teachings on the game. It's a very difficult issue because the opportunities to raise funds in many parts of the North are extremely limited," he says. "Conversely, some communities are holding a bingo almost everyday and that's just too much."

This is the third part in a four-part series examining bingo in the Kivalliq.