4 Jul

Toronto says No More Cash at Senior Drop-In Games

Toronto seniors are furious over the city’s enforcement of a ‘no cash’ ban on drop-in games at senior centres.

What were they thinking?!” That’s the general consensus among senior citizens in Scarborough after the City of Toronto followed through on a cash ban at senior citizen centres. The games may go on, say city officials, but no money can be exchanged.

That was the directive received by members of local seniors when they arrived at their respective drop-in clubs last week. The Parks, Forestry And Recreation Division (PFR) of Toronto distributed fliers with the tag line “Urgent Notice”, and the unmistakable message that “no exchange of money will be allowed” for any drop-in gaming activities, effective July 2, 2019.

Cash Ban at Toronto Senior Drop-In Games

While the fliers have only been reported to have shown up at senior centres in Scarborough, it’s assumed that the entire city of Toronto is effected by the ban. Local officials say it wasn’t their decision to make, but rather their obligatory obedience in following the letter of provincial law.

According to Ontario’s gaming legislation, only licensed casinos and charitable organizations may host real money gambling. Paying $1 to join in a bingo, bridge, cribbage or euchre game at a local seniors club, and collecting a menial prize for winning, still constitutes gambling in their books. Therefore the city says it can no longer look the other way.

Seniors Distraught by Drop-In Cash Ban

“Can you imagine yelling, ‘Bingo!’, and getting nothing?” asked a dismayed Bill Haskins. The 85 year old card gamer has been running the Euchre Club at Stephen Leacock Community Centre in Agincourt for years, and thinks it’s “pretty darn sad” that the attraction to these games has been utterly swept away.

In the 14 years Haskins has played Euchre at the club, he says the price to participate has never risen. It’s still the same $1.25 it was so many years ago; a minuscule price to pay to encourage seniors to get out of their homes, away from their televisions, and back out into a healthy social environment. This new ban, he says, is only “chasing us back in.”

Haskins and other former regulars at drop-in games say their pastime was already dying out before the illegal gambling enforcement came to pass. The $1 Bridge games at Leacock used to draw 15 tables of players. In early June, members were told by centre staff that they’d have to drop their entry to $0.25. That alone reduced participation to an average of 5 tables. Learning that no money at all could be exchanged was enough to cause half of the members, including the man who runs the games, to walk out last Monday when the notice arrived.

Why the Sudden Enforcement of Ontario Gambling Laws?

Club staffers consulted the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which confirmed that the practice of collecting entry fees is a violation of provincial gaming laws. Howard Dayton, Community Recreation Director for PFR, explained that the move was made after, “concerns were brought to our attention from older adult program participants regarding entry fees in card groups.”

Word around Scarborough’s local water cooler is that it was a woman who lodged the complaint. Members of more than one area senior centre say she was playing Texas Hold’em poker at a drop-in where unlimited betting – the only club to offer unlimited betting in the area – when she became frustrated with others betting too aggressively. Thus she complained and got the ball rolling.

Some of the seniors effected by the new drop-in cash ban say it’s more than that. They are blaming the government and the desire of politicians to harvest their pension checks by way of casino gambling. A member from a Port Union drop-in says the government is basically telling seniors to “go to the casinos.” The way she sees it, “that’s all that’s there, seniors spending half their pension cheques.”

Scarborough councilmen Jim Karygiannis and Michael Thompson agree with the local seniors, and are sympathetic to their cause. Thompson doesn’t believe “anyone’s getting hurt” by such small bets on bridge, euchre and other friendly card games. “Quite frankly, I think it’s pretty ridiculous”, he said. Unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do to fight provincial law.

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