By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Did you know there’s a bylaw in Coaldale outlawing VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals)?
VLTs might be resurrected in Coaldale some day soon, after being voted out of the community through a plebiscite years ago.
Ken Schmidt, owner of the new Coaldale Inn has asked town council to allow VLTs to make a comeback in the town. Schmidt purchased the inn in March of this year and after renovations opened in June.
Schmidt addressed the Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce at a meeting held Nov. 9 and stated the purpose of his presentation was to perhaps gain support for his endeavour to bring VLTs back to the community of Coaldale, perhaps through a letter of support to be presented to town council.
“VLTs were introduced in Alberta in the early 1990s and after a brief time there was a group that petitioned the government to have them removed from the province. The government elected to put the onus on the individual communities to decide whether or not they wanted them. Coaldale decided, along with other communities within the entire province, they wanted them banned. They were removed from the town a few months later. So, early 1995, I think they were removed from Coaldale,” he explained.
Schmidt added it didn’t really solve anything because anybody that wanted to play them went to a neighbouring community and left their money behind.
“Money deprived from the local businesses. Not only directly with the venues involved but also indirectly with money left behind in those communities,” he said, adding the money could have stayed in the community and recycled amongst the businesses in town.
If VLTs were reinstated at the venues involved, it would require more staff and it would create a few more jobs for local residents, Schmidt noted.
According to the local business owner, the hope is the issue could be revisited and VLTs could be reinstated in Coaldale.
Schmidt, along with a small group of individuals, were scheduled to meet with town council last night.
Town Coun. Jack Van Rijn, who is also a chamber member, said a plebiscite wouldn’t be required.
“After 10 years we could reinstate VLTs but council would never entertain such a thing without public engagement,” he said.
Lawyer Leonard Fast, a local business owner and chamber member said if he was at his church he might talk one way about VLTs or gambling but as a business person he thinks VLTs being reinstated in the community is something the chamber should support.
“I’ve been involved with a number of clients who have bought hotels and have VLTs and I know the financial impact it has for these clients to have VLTs in their establishment. In the capacity of a board member, I would be supportive of this initiative,” Fast said.
Van Rijn added the Coaldale Kinsmen are also looking into the issue and through research the club has found that back when VLTs were taken out of Coaldale, there wasn’t supposed to be any gaming money coming back to the community.
“If you were to look back at the projects being built in this community, they would not be here if it wasn’t for the fact we had lottery money available. Projects such as the spray park, any playground that you see going on in Coaldale, grants — all that money comes from gaming. Technically, we weren’t supposed to be eligible to get that money. If you were to turn the clock back to when the VLTs were taken, and the funding tap was turned off for community projects, there’s a lot of things we have in this town now, that we wouldn’t have because of it,” Van Rijn explained.
Van Rijn said he has spoken with a previous local hotel owner in Coaldale and the owner noted the removal of VLTs from their business was ultimately the demise of the local business. The owner said to Van Rijn the business was able to make a profit of $140,000 a year, which was enough to keep the doors open at the business.
Speaking as a Kinsmen member, the club is in favour of getting the VLTs back.
“Someone that wants to play the slot machines, if they don’t get to do it in Coaldale, they are going to drive the 10 minutes west and they’re going to do it there,” he said.
“At least here, they’re going to have something to eat and buy a drink and spend the money here in our own community.”
It was added by a few other chamber members there is already gambling in Coaldale, which includes lottery tickets at local stores.
Through a secret ballot, a motion was passed by the chamber to offer a letter of support to be submitted to town council in favour of bringing VLTs back to the community of Coaldale. There were a few in opposition.
Here are a few milestones in Alberta gaming history from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.
In 1991, VLTs are tested at summer fairs in Edmonton and Calgary. In 1992, the VLT program is officially introduced. In 1998, during the Oct. 19 civic elections, VLT plebiscites are held in 36 Alberta municipalities. Six municipalities including the County of Lethbridge and the Town of Coaldale vote to have their VLTs removed. VLT retailers take legal action. Courts rule the Alberta government cannot direct the AGLC to remove VLTs from municipalities unless there is specified legislation in place. Government passes legislation to remove VLTs from the communities that voted against VLTs. In 1999, Bill 36, the Gaming and Liquor Amendment Act, is passed on May 19, giving the minister authority to give policy direction to the AGLC and to terminate VLT retailer agreements in municipalities that voted in favour of VLT removal. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench grants an interim injunction on May 20, prohibiting the AGLC from disabling or removing VLTs pending the constitutional challenge of Bill 36. In 2003, the AGLC honours the 1997-1998 plebiscite results and removes nearly 200 VLTs from seven communities across the province.
According to the AGLC, a total of 6,000 VLTs are managed by the AGLC and are located in age-restricted, liquor-licensed venues under a video retailer agreement. VLT net revenues go to the Alberta Lottery Fund, where it is used to support thousands of volunteer, public and community-based initiatives across the province. Health and wellness programs, education, recreation, and cultural initiatives are some examples of how VLT gaming proceeds are used.