(Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS) Val Strohan (front) and other bingo players disagree with removing Friday and Saturday night bingo sessions. Val Strohan, right, and other bingo players, disagree with removing Friday and Saturday night bingos. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

No more Saturday night bingo at Chances Maple Ridge

Patrons worried beginning of end for bingo; not so, says Chances

Players are under the letter P for peeved after changes to the bingo hours at Chances Maple Ridge.

Recently, the Friday and Saturday night bingo sessions were scratched at the four-year-old downtown facility run by Great Canadian Gaming Corp.

“It’s just really discouraging,” said Val Strohan, a bingo regular who also used to play at the Haney Bingo Plex on 224th Street before the opening of Chances in 2013.

Strohan says there are no longer any guaranteed jackpots and that bingo winnings are just based on the number of participants.

“They have basically run it into the ground,” said Strohan. “Since Day 1, they have done absolutely nothing to promote it.”

She said bingo is usually over by 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, freeing up parking for other patrons at Chances. She and others are afraid removing the Friday and Saturday nights is just the first step in phasing out bingo completely.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to the community,” added Judy Pepper, who’s been playing bingo for 47 years.

She said that bingo is a social outlet for many seniors.

“All they want you to do is spend your money in the slots.”

Chances director of operations Kaila Klassen said it was a tough decision to cut the Friday and Saturday night bingo, but the game will still be part of the gaming centre.

“It’s not going anywhere, it’s changing.”

The centre wants to re-invent its bingo offerings over the next few months.

“By thinking outside the box, we can do something. We can’t do it everyday,” Klassen said.

Bingo still will be offered Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, as well as on afternoons from Fridays to Tuesdays.

Klassen said while Friday and Saturday bingo nights appeared busy, that didn’t translate into revenue, turning into losses on Saturdays, when prize payouts were guaranteed.

But bingo has been on the slow decline even before Chances opened four years ago.

The various restrictions on smoking indoors in the early 2000s had a major effect, Klassen added.

“It’s been going on for the last seven or eight years,” Klassen said.

“We understand that it is also an outing for a lot of seniors, so we’ve kept our afternoon offerings. Hopefully, on our remaining evenings we can concentrate our efforts and turn them into something a little more special than they were.”

She added that Chances hasn’t changed its jackpots nor the space allotted for bingo.

But even on bingo’s busiest nights, the centre only reaches 70 per cent bingo capacity.

“We all support the casino by our constant attendance and obvious financial ‘donations’, but we get nothing in return,” added Arlene Hale. “A lot of players are now going to Langley to play bingo because they are fed up with how they are being treated.”

She said minimum payouts were cut a few months ago.

But that was necessary because there wasn’t enough revenue coming into sustain those payouts, Klassen explained.

Strohan said that it will take her about three hours to go through $50 to $75. But that amount can be spent within minutes with electronic slot machines.

“It’s definitely upsetting because they’re not replacing it with anything,” Strohan said.

Great Canadian Gaming bought the assets of Ridge Meadows Bingo Association in 2007 for $1 million, with the money divided between about 30 local charities that operated and received bingo funds.

Under the sales agreement, those charities were to receive another $1.25 million spread out over 10 years until 2020.

The bingo hall and gaming centre then moved from the old Bingo Plex, now a film studio, to the new location at Lougheed Highway and 227th Street in 2013.

Great Canadian Gaming says that two-thirds of its revenue goes to B.C. Lotto Corp., which redistributes the money to government health, education and social programs.

Cities also get a 10-per-cent cut from the revenue from the 200 electronic slot machines, with Maple Ridge earning $1.2 million last year.

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