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Coaldale town council analyzing VLT issue

Posted on September 1, 2020 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Coaldale town council has requested information regarding its VLT ban following a delegation from the local chamber of commerce.

During their regular July 13 meeting, Coaldale town council met with Coaldale and District chamber president Rene van de Vendel and Coaldale Inn owner Ken Schmidt to discuss the VLT ban in Coaldale.

VLT’s were banned in town after a plebiscite held in 1998 was in favour of banning them. The question was resurrected in November 2016, when a local business approached council to request they reverse the ban.

At the end of 2016, a poll was taken of 710 random Coaldale residents, the results of which were available to council in January 2017, in which 69 per cent of respondents indicated they would vote to allow VLTs in Coaldale. A proposed bylaw to strike down the ban was given first reading in February 2017, with council deciding to hold a plebiscite on the issue in March 2017. The results of that plebiscite, which was held during the 2017 municipal election, were presented during a November 2017 council meeting, indicated that residents were in favour of continuing with the ban. In total, 1,013 people, or 50.29 per cent, were in favour of council not passing the bylaw, while 1,000 people, or 49.71 per cent, were in favour of the bylaw. Council voted to rescind first reading of the bylaw and accept the results of the plebiscite.

The chamber has sent letters to council before regarding allowing VLTs in town, with the latest being dated in March 2020. Van de Vendel said he had first looked into what the exact wording was in disallowing VLTs in town, he couldn’t find anything from the town on it “in an official matter”. Eventually, he talked to the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, who regulates VLTs. According to the AGLC’s Liquor Licence Handbook, for an licence to install VLTs on their premises, they must have a valid Class A Minors Prohibited liquor licence, operate a licensed premise which is open for business and not be located in a community that prohibits VLT installations. According to the handbook, there are currently nine municipalities in Alberta that ban VLTs, including Coaldale.

In a document to council from the chamber, it said, “What we found is a decision by the province to ban VLTs everywhere except those municipalities that individually allow them. In effect it is a case of a “reverse bylaw”. This means that the procedure to welcome VLTs in Coaldale would be relatively simple. It is not a case of having to overturn a bylaw disallowing VLTs. It is a simple application with the minister of Finance, Mr. Travis Toews”.

Mayor Kim Craig noted that while he was not against VLTs, there have been plebiscites in the past whose results were not in favour of allowing VLTs in town.

Schmidt noted that poll town council reviewed in January 2017 was in favour of VLTs, while in the plebiscite later that year there was a difference of just 13 votes.

Coun. Jacen Abrey noted for the poll, it was random cell phone numbers, of which they couldn’t be sure if those people lived in Coaldale, and not Lethbridge County or the City of Lethbridge, and while it was by a slim majority, the majority of plebiscite responders still were not in favour of VLTs.

“We need to respect the majority, even though it was a small majority, with respect to what they voted,” said Abrey. “If it was the other way — the vote was 13 votes the other way — and we had a group of 100 people coming in and saying they want to change it, what would the businesses response be then?”

Van de Vendel said the chamber spoke on behalf of businesses, and that’s who they are supporting.

Coun. Briane Simpson asked if administration could come back with all reports and minutes regarding VLTs, so that new councillors would have the relevant background information when they discuss this.

Council passed a motion to direct administration could come back with all reports and minutes regarding the VLT topic to assess all options council has moving forward, in a split 4-3 vote. Coun.(s) Doreen Lloyd, Bill Chapman and Abrey were opposed.

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