Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2003
Schools divided on gambling
Edmonton Catholic has not discussed gambling issue
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Not every Catholic school district in Alberta is quick to side with the Evergreen district's ban on casinos and bingos.
In fact, Edmonton Catholic Schools says it would experience considerable hardship to lose this means of generating revenue given the economic diversity within their boundaries.
And the Calgary Catholic School District, while placing strict guidelines on fundraising through gambling, has not banned it totally.
The Evergreen Catholic school board - which has schools in Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and Westlock - voted unanimously Nov. 10 to ban casinos as of Jan. 1 and bingos a year later to fall in line with the Alberta bishops who six years ago requested all Catholic schools, parishes and service clubs to refrain from generating revenue through gambling.
"We cannot continue contributing to the culture of gambling," said Calgary Bishop Fred Henry. "We can survive without gambling. We did it before and we can do it now."
According to the Alberta Liquor Control Commission, the provincial government received $1.2 billion in gambling revenue last year. Alberta charities received more than $200 million of that, including $114.4 million from casinos and $50.4 million from bingos.
It estimated more than 80 per cent of Albertans participate in gambling activity, of which some five per cent are considered to be at a moderate or high risk of developing a gambling problem.
Dr. Dale Ripley, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, said the Edmonton trustees have not discussed whether to ban gambling fundraisers.
"The situation in a large metro board like Edmonton is quite different than Evergreen in that we have schools as small as 135 students and as large as 1,600.
"The range in economic disparity between our schools is massive. We have small schools in low socio-economic, high-needs areas and other schools in very affluent communities where the bulk of the parents are very able to provide additional support or optional opportunities for their kids.
"For us to come out with a blanket ban when we have such a range of schools' ability to meet needs without (bingos and casinos) would be a serious consideration."
Ripley alluded to published reports that say between three and five per cent of gamblers have a serious problem.
"Assuming those figures are in fact correct, it would indicate to me that 95 per cent of the dollars come from people who can afford it, who don't have a problem and are using the dollars for recreational entertainment.
"What I think ought to be considered is, could a school jurisdiction, or a church that raises money through casinos, take 95 per cent of those dollars and develop policy that says five per cent of the money will be given back to organizations like Gamblers' Anonymous or AADAC to support those who have the problem?"
Dr. Jeremy Simms, chief superintendent of Calgary Catholic schools and board chair Lois Burke-Gaffney said Henry has been directly involved in their discussions regarding a ban, but no decision has been made.
"About three years ago, we went through a process where we looked at all of the issues surrounding fundraising to try and set those guidelines to encourage school councils to limit the funds that are raised - to be clear as to the purpose of the fundraising - and be sure the activities were appropriate for fundraising," Simms said.
"We have not ruled (bingos and casinos) out, but the whole emphasis is on discouraging them."
Burke-Gaffney said they recently concluded a two-month, round-table process discussing the issue. All of the school council chairs and the principals - and the Catholic community - were involved in developing guidelines.
"The guidelines regard how many fundraising events can occur in each school," she said. "We have made it clear they must be addressing needs, not wants."
However, Kevin Andreas, deputy superintendent of St. Thomas Aquinas schools based in Leduc, said they have never relied on casinos to supplement funding and don't intend to.
The school division includes schools in Drayton Valley, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin.
"Our board passed a policy that essentially said that because of the high-stakes nature of casino gambling, the division would not sanction any fundraising activities tied to casino gambling," Andreas said.
Bingos had been occurring in the division for a long time but casinos weren't part of their history. They decided to act before it became an issue.
Said Andreas, "We did receive some fallout thereafter, but I think most of the parents in our communities understood and accepted the decision of the board."
"We want to be in concert with the direction of the pastoral letter by the bishops of Alberta."