By J.W. Schnarr
For the Sunny South News
Coaldale residents will have an opportunity to let council know their thoughts on whether Coaldale should allow VLTs back into the community through a survey.
The decision to move ahead with the survey was made with a motion from council during their regular meeting on Nov. 14, when members of the business community appeared as a delegation to speak on the issue. The cost of the survey could be about $5,000, which will be covered by the town.
John Hashem, a food and beverage operator in Medicine Hat, was asked to represent Coaldale bars and restaurants. Hashem spearheaded a fight to keep VLTs in Medicine Hat 20 years ago when the decision was put to a vote.
“We got what we hoped for,” said Hashem, in regards to council’s survey decision. “I think what we’re looking for is their support to bring them back, and we understand the reluctance and wanting some community information. We support that 100 per cent.”
While the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states council is within their power to do away with the ban, it was felt the community should have an opportunity to lend input on the issue.
Coun. Jacen Abrey said local residents should be consulted, as they were the ones who originally voted VLTs out of the community.
“I was one of the ones who voted them out,” said Coun. Jack Van Rijn. “I’ve been kicking myself for that decision.”
Coun. Bill Chapman said the role of council is not to step in the way of business development.
“I agree this is more of a business decision rather than a moral one,” said Van Rijn.
Council heard local businesses have been hurt by the fact people leave the community to play VLTs.
There was also frustration on the fact casinos for charity groups, and local gambling with lotteries and scratch tickets are supported as a source of revenue for convenience stores and gas stations, but pubs and hotels have had their income suffer because VLTs are banned.
Thirty-six communities across Alberta held plebiscites on the VLT issue on Oct. 19, 1998. Only the towns of Stony Plain, Lacombe, Coaldale, Cardston, Canmore, the County of Lethbridge and M.D. of Opportunity rejected VLTs.
According to the Alberta Lottery Fund, which is the government share of net proceeds from VLTs, casino gaming terminals, electronic bingo and ticket lotteries, 2015 budget estimates were nearly $1.5 billion – $504 million coming from VLTs.
The funds are then used to fund infrastructure projects, school and health facility construction, post-secondary facility construction, and addiction prevention and treatment programs.
Volunteer, public and community-based initiatives include community facilities, libraries and museums, sports and athletic events, agricultural societies, arts and culture groups, wildlife and conservation projects, public athletic facilities, seniors’ groups, and recreation, tourism and historical resources.
Hashem said he feels people have changed their minds on VLTs over the past 20 years.
“That’s pretty evident,” he said. “The communities are all happy with the money they are getting. The businesses are happy because they are getting their share.”
The push to allow VLTs in the community was recently supported by the Coaldale Chamber of Commerce. Hashem said the group hopes the town will change their stance on VLTs.
“We’ll let them do the survey, and we’ll abide by whatever council comes up with,” he said.