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Bars, charities running scared

AGCO forces review of lottery fundraisers

Bars and charities are rethinking their approach to fundraising following news that some events may be illegal.

During an inspection of the Black Eagle on Mar 27 inspectors from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) told management that fundraising events that included raffles, 50-50 draws or any lottery events were illegal unless the recipient charity obtained a lottery licence. Otherwise the venue is in violation of the criminal code and, if it’s a bar, could potentially lose its licence if caught by an inspector. The Eagle removed posters promoting such events.

“We’ve had a lot of unlicenced draws,” says Andrew Dunn, manager of the Churchmouse and Firkin. “If it’s the bar that’s in jeopardy of being fined I’ll definitely be more careful about covering my behind. I think we’ll keep doing the events, I’ll just make sure the host of the event looks into it.”

Dunn says he has never had problems with the AGCO on this issue. He says he wasn’t even aware of the licence requirement until he read the article in the last issue of Xtra (AGCO Targets Gay Philanthropy.

“I definitely don’t approve of it as the money is going to charity,” he says.

Pamela Beavis, the director of development and communications for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, says the charity is looking at its approach to bar events in the light of Xtra’s article.

“We have a number of third-party events where there are raffles and draws,” she says. “We’ve never obtained a licence for them. We’re currently talking to our lawyer about it.”

Elissa Freeman, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario — which Dunn says has been the recipient of fundraising events at the Firkin — says the charity does not encourage such events.

“We don’t do a lot of raffles,” she says. “We’re set up for it but a lot of the bars and people who want to do the fundraising aren’t. They have to be prepared to handle all the paperwork at their end, probably more paperwork than the people doing the raffle want to get into.”

Bob Watkin, a member of Mr Leatherman Toronto, says he is planning to proceed with a fundraiser at the Black Eagle on Fri, Apr 25 for an HIV-positive landed immigrant who ended up with a $10,000 bill after a stay in hospital. But Watkin says he has cancelled the 50-50 draw that was to have been part of the event.

“I am being very careful given that I am holding the event at a licenced establishment not to do anything that will jeopardize the owner’s licence,” he says. “The cause itself is a good one and one people have expressed interest in. This will definitely place constraints on us but I think this community will continue to express its coherence despite the AGCO.”

Dean Odorico, the manager of Woody’s, says he doesn’t think the AGCO will really go after bars on this issue.

“I don’t think they would lay charges,” he says. “I think at the Black Eagle a trainee noticed the poster so the inspector had no choice.”

Odorico says that on Apr 10 — the day Xtra’s article came out — Woody’s was visited by AGCO inspectors. George’s Play and Crews/Tango also received visits.

“They said they were looking for minors and signs of overcrowding,” he says. “They didn’t find any. They come around every few months, more during Pride.”

Lisa Murray, a spokesperson for the AGCO, confirmed the visits and another visit the next day to the Black Eagle, for what she called “an administrative issue.”

“There were spot inspections done and from what I’ve seen everything seems to be fine,” she says. “It’s troubling to me and the people here that there’s a belief that the AGCO is targeting establishments because they’re gay establishments. I can assure you there is no attempt to pick on gay clubs.”

Murray says the Church St strip is treated the same as any other comparable area.

“There are certain areas where there are higher concentrations of clubs and bars,” she says. “There’s more emphasis put on those areas. It’s the same as the entertainment district. If there are people in the community who are unhappy we’d be happy to talk.”

Nobody from Play, Crews or the Black Eagle responded to interview requests from Xtra.