Bingo Part 1:  The Early Days

by John Lewsen, October 31, 2023

In their recent lunch-and-learn presentation on Solel’s early days Rabbi Emeritus, Larry Englander and Cheryl Englander spoke about how Solel’s founders were able to tap into Bingo funds to assist with the funding of our building and repayment of early loans. Rabbi Englander also spoke about the ethical discussions and debate around the use of gambling profits – and the guidance in the Halacha as to how gambling can be acceptable within Jewish tradition when proceeds are used also support legitimate charitable activities.

It is interesting to note that as far back as 1910, 60 years before gambling and gaming were legalized in Canada, amendments to the then Canadian Criminal code allowed the profits for “occasional games of chance” to be used for religious purposes. As a result, over the past century, numerous Canadian religious organizations had the benefit of deploying such revenues to help meet their annual budgetary obligations. It is no surprise therefore that Solel’s founders tapped into this source of funding for the building of Solel. It is also no surprise that Solel’s current gaming activities continue to play a vital role in both augmenting our membership funding model and supporting charitable causes in the greater community that I referenced in my blog last month featuring the activities of Women of Solel.

The Bingo regulatory landscape continued to evolve in the years following the 1970 amendment to Canada’s Criminal Code and related provincial regulations that legalized and modernized gambling in Canada. When Solel started its Bingo program the environment was very different: US gambling laws were still much more restrictive in the US than in Canada, smoking was permitted indoors and there were no electronic Bingo game boards. At the recent Solel@50 event for founding members, I overheard Bernie Weitzman, Solel’s third president, and Nelson Zelding reminiscing on how busloads of Americans would arrive from across the border, sometimes as many as 300 at a time for a night of Bingo in Mississauga. For many participants, a night of Bingo was a night of community and socialization with friends and could be done on a limited budget. Solel had by then successfully managed to secure responsibility for staffing the Bingo Hall on Thursday nights and earned revenue from all the proceeds. Once a week, Solel’s teams of Bingo volunteers managed crowd control, cleaning, coffee service, and eagerly calling out the Bingo numbers and confirming winning players. And they did this all under circumstances we are no longer used to in public spaces: clouds of permanent cigarette smoke.

Over the past 50 years, Solel’s Bingo leadership has adroitly adapted to numerous changes and challenges. These were triggered by a drop in US participation following the relaxation of US State gambling laws, implementation of Anti Money Laundering regulations, New Provincial and City regulations, and COVID-19 restrictions. The banning of smoking in Bingo halls was perhaps the biggest blow to Bingo participation. Eventually, when the International Centre closed its Bingo Hall in response to declining numbers and revenues, Solel was successful in securing an allocation of spots in the smaller Bingo Hall at the Rama Gaming House on Battleford Road, Mississauga.

Stay tuned. In my next blog on this topic, I will focus on the current organizational structure of our gaming revenue teams, what they do for us, how they do it, governance, and the rules as to how we can utilize these funds. I will also recognize our two current dedicated teams of Solel Bingo volunteers, and the Solel leaders that make this happen.


Filed under: President's Message

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