Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Smoking ban will crimp charitable gambling

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:37 AM |  

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

'Civil society" is the free and voluntary association of individuals in families, churches, schools, clubs, fraternal societies, veteran's organizations and the like. "Civil society" may be broadly defined in the single word "community."
Community is the natural way for society to take care its own. People in trouble first turn to family, then friends, then charitable organizations within their community. However, for a community to take care of its own, it must have funds to do so.

Ironically, it is the insatiable progressive do-gooders so infatuated with creating "pseudo-communities" who cannot recognize that authentic community is inevitable collateral damage in their misguided war on secondhand smoke.

Last week at VFW Post 1296 in Bloomington, in a conference room with ashtrays on the table, representatives from Bloomington veterans' organizations and service clubs talked about their charitable contribution to the community and how it might be affected by that city's smoking ban. Much of it will go up in non-existent smoke.

Organizations sponsoring charitable gambling donate almost $900,000 annually to Bloomington and contiguous cities. Most revenue comes from charitable gambling — pull tabs and raffles — and revenue associated with bingo. Once the smoking ban goes into effect, organization officers predict a sharp decline in charitable funds. Bloomington Eagles Club Trustee James Crary estimates revenue will decrease 70 percent.

As documented where smoking bans are in place, from the province of New Brunswick, Canada, to the states of New York and California, neighborhood bars and restaurants have seen significant declines in customers and in the time customers spend eating and drinking.

For example, a survey by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association during the first month of the province's ban that took effect Oct. 1, found New Brunswick's smoking ban was having a negative impact on establishments with bars, pubs, taverns, legions and night clubs. In this survey, 71 percent of respondents reported sharp declines in liquor sales. In small businesses the effect was pronounced, with pubs, taverns and bars reporting that liquor sales fell almost 14 percent from the same time a year earlier. At legion clubs, the survey found, the decline was almost 19 percent.

For the Bloomington organizations, such an effect would translate into fewer pull tabs and fewer raffle tickets.

Plus, added service club member Jim Algeo, studies have documented a connection between gambling and smoking. Smokers gamble more, a connection that has an even greater impact on bingo halls.

Estimates range as high as 60 percent for the number of bingo players who smoke. Crary and Jim Newcomer, commander of VFW Post 1296 predict that once the smoking ban goes into effect, bingo will die as a source of charitable funds in Bloomington and player will migrate to the Indian casino at Mystic Lake. For the VFW, which rents the attached space next to its club for use as a bingo hall, that could mean as much as $182,000 in lost revenue.

What do losses like that mean to the community? Steve Enebo, a VFW trustee, and Patty Gustner, club manager for American Legion Post 550, rattled off a number of contributions to veterans organizations and to active service men and women and their families — everything from washers, dryers and television sets for the VA medical center to "care packages" for military personnel to Cub Foods certificates for military families to honor guards for funerals to a hospice suite at the VA medical center.

Along with the Eagles and other service organizations, the VFW and American Legion contributed to the Bloomington fire department for the purchase of thermal imaging equipment, technology that enables firefighters to quickly locate an unconscious person in a smoke-filled room — three units at $17,000 each.

Groups benefiting from Eagles Club contributions include Creekside, a community center for senior citizens, the city's police department Canine Corps and Cornerstone Advocacy Services, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Algeo cited a pair of full tuition scholarships to Bloomington Kennedy and Jefferson students attending the University of Minnesota. Gustner noted that the Legion Post provides funds to purchase books for Kennedy High School. All the organizations make contributions to Bloomington youth athletic teams, scouting organizations and other youth activities. The list goes on.

Many, if not all of these community-inspired charitable contributions may well be wiped out by the smoking ban. Some will be replaced by tax dollars. Some, the most personal and most appreciated, will prove too trivial for the bureaucracy to bother with and simply cease to be.

But then the self-righteous will be able to drink and dine without the annoyance of other people's bad habits. What is value of an American flag on the coffin of a war veteran compared to a benefit like that?