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Council revisits contentious VLT debate, passes motion to bring back draft bylaw

Posted on January 18, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

The highly polarizing debate surrounding reinstating video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Coaldale is being examined again by Coaldale council. During a regular council meeting on Jan. 10, council heard from Chief Administrative officer (CAO) Kalen Hastings, who presented on a document written by manager of economic development for the town of Coaldale, Cam Mills.

“This report was drafted in response to a council resolution, which was made in response to correspondence received from a local business inquiring about the need for VLTs and whether council was going to consider this again,” Hastings said.

The prepared presentation documented the history of key milestones with respect to the VLT issue in Coaldale as it has been previously presented to council.

The most recent 2017 plebiscite, called by council, pursuant to section 236 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) saw the VLT issue placed on the ballot for citizen engagement, however this vote was not legislatively binding. Hastings noted that the plebiscite was, “a legislative tool that allows a council to submit a question to be voted on by electors on any manner over which municipality over which municipality has jurisdiction,” but added there are no prescribed timelines or procedures to how a council may revisit the question in the future. Differentiated from a binding vote which would expire 10 years after a vote passed. The last binding vote of electors on this issue has since expired, as it was conducted in 1998.

Hastings also noted the Town does not have a legislated requirement to hold any sort of public hearing or advertisement with respect to bringing back a draft bylaw.

“It is council’s discretion which form of citizen engagement tools are used on how to proceed with the VLT matter in Coaldale. (You) could choose another plebiscite, look at having a public hearing, look at doing a survey, (but) there isn’t a prescribed legislative requirement to do any of this.”

“The VLT issue has a relatively storied history in Coaldale (…) I think the correspondence history speaks for itself. It is an issue that has been discussed a number of times at various junctions over the past decade, and given the nature of the issue, administration has no specific recommendation on how to move forward, other than noting that any of the options would satisfy the legislative requirements of the MGA, this is more of a discretionary exercise on how council moves forward rather than a legislatively prescribed one,” explained Hastings.

A recent letter of engagement, circulated by Ken Schmidt, owner of the Coaldale Inn reads, “the Town of Coaldale has been unjustly discriminatory toward local business owners who would qualify for Video Lottery Terminals in their establishments yet simultaneously supporting businesses in town that currently sell other means of gambling.”

Businesses who house VLTs are subject to the policies and oversight of the AGLC, a regulatory body which ensures compliance among businesses offering services or sales of regulated liquor, cannabis, and gambling.

In May 2021, the AGLC announced that Albertans 18 and older, would be able to purchase lottery tickets online through the provincially owned and regulated website PlayAlberta.ca. In addition to lottery, the website offers virtual slot machines, instant games, and dealer table games, as well as sports wagering and is accessible to any Albertan over the age of 18.

Despite gambling becoming more accessible than ever in recent years, Deputy Mayor Jacen Abrey voiced his concerns about allowing VLTs back into the municipality.

“There’s reasons why people move to Coaldale and its not bloody VLTs, it’s because we are unique. We don’t have to follow the sheep. We don’t have to all jump over the cliff. People come to Coaldale because it is a community, they want to live in. We’re Coaldale, we don’t offer VLTs, big deal. I just really think you need to think this one through, council,” Abrey said during the meeting.

Mayor Van Rijn noted that in 2017, the Town was involved in conducting a phone survey, “which reported 72% of approximately 700 homes, agreed to being in favour of bringing VLTs back.”

However, concerns arose over whether the sampled population were exclusively residents of Coaldale, “the problem was that council, at the time found, there was some concerns as to whether the phone numbers were all residents in Coaldale or if they were a 345 number of someone living four miles outside of town,” added Van Rijn.

Coun. Reis sponsored a motion that council move to direct administration to bring back a draft bylaw that, if approved, would have the effect of reinstating the operation and use of VLTS terminals in Coaldale. Further this draft bylaw will appear at the regular council meeting of Jan. 24, 2022, for consideration of a first reading. At which point council may wish to hold a public hearing on Feb. 14, 2022, to hear from the community before giving consideration of a second and third reading, should the bylaw make it to this stage.

The motion to bring back a bylaw was passed, with Coun. Chapman and Abrey opposing the motions. Council will reconvene Jan. 24 to hear the full details of the draft bylaw.

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