VLT petition valid, new plebiscite may or may not follow

The clock has started ticking for a possible Rocky Mountain House bylaw that could foster a plebiscite calling for a return of VLTs to town.

The clock has started ticking for a possible Rocky Mountain House bylaw that could foster a plebiscite calling for a return of VLTs to town.

Town administration presented council earlier this week with information that a petition from a group of pub owners was valid.

“The petition asks us to present a bylaw,” Mayor Jim Bague said on Thursday.

The town now has 30 days to form the wording for the bylaw and bring it to council for first reading.

However, there’s a sticking point. Bague said the town is seeking a legal opinion whether it has jurisdiction in the matter.

“If we do, then we’ll move onto the next step.”

Gambling could fall under the province’s jurisdiction, Bague said.

Jim Pogson, manager of Duffer’s Pub and a leader in gathering names for the petition, said getting the petition approved is just the first step in the process.

He said it’s now up to the town to make the next move.

If the town needs to conduct the plebiscite, the wording would be reviewed by the Alberta solicitor general to ensure it wasn’t a leading question.

After first reading, the town, if it has jurisdiction, has 90 days to take it to the public.

The total cost of the plebiscite, including legal fees, could be around $15,000, Bague estimated. The plebiscite costs about $5,000.

He said it was important for the town to remain as neutral as possible on the question.

A group of pub owners formed an association last year and needed 723 names, which is 10 per cent of the town’s population of 7,230, to present to council. The petition had about 800 names.

This was the second time in the last several months that petitioners approached council.

Town officials rejected the first petition, declaring it invalid because of inconsistencies in names and questions on petition sheets.

Pogson said earlier that business has dropped about 30 per cent from the same period last year because of the slumping economy and taverns need to attract customers.

Organized debate could take place before the plebiscite.

The video lottery terminals were outlawed 12 years ago in Rocky after two-thirds of the 1,600 people who voted in a plebiscite opted to turf them.

The Rocky ministerial association, which is opposed to the machines, said it will debate the faults of VLTs if and when voters are asked to decide. The association also lobbied against the machines in 1997.

jwilson@bprda.wpengine.com

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