REGINA — The Saskatchewan government rejected a call Wednesday to remove about 4,000 video lottery terminals from bars, restaurants and lounges — in part because of the financial boost that the machines have been for the province and rural establishments.
Christine Tell, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, acknowledged that bar, restaurant and lounge owners have voiced concerns about removing the machines.
“I have heard that from the Hotel Association actually, that they’re really dependant upon the revenues brought in through the VLTs, through customer-base purchasing, buying alcohol or just operating the VLTs themselves,” said Tell.
The comments come after a research group led by a University of Manitoba doctoral grad called on governments to remove video lottery terminals from all bars, restaurants, lounges and branches of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Tracie Afifi said her study found VLTs in the community are the biggest problem for Canadian women with a gambling addiction. The biggest benefit of gambling is revenue for the government and for the operators of establishments that offer it, according to Afifi.
The national study will be published this week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
There are nearly 4,000 VLTs in 313 Saskatchewan communities, according to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s website. The machines brought in $195.6 million for the province in 2008-09 and $36.6 million for site contractors.
The Saskatchewan government has promised not to add any more machines until a socio-economic impact study is done. Tell said the government is not considering a study or adding any more VLTs right now.
Tell said the money is “a factor, absolutely, but it isn’t the only factor” behind the decision to keep the VLTs.
“The reason why a lot of these (establishments), especially in the rural areas, have VLTs was because they were struggling and they were having a tough time making it. Having the VLTs in there brought customers in there, which was in reality a lifeline,” she said.
The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association agreed.
“Our take on this is that the amount of revenue that would be lost to our members, to the hoteliers out there in Saskatchewan, as well as to the government, is significant and the end result would be the potential for 75 to 100 hotels to go under,” said association president Tom Mullin.
“A number of the hotels, especially rural hotels out there, are basically staying above water based on VLT revenue,” said Mullin.
Mullin said removing the VLTs won’t curb addiction and people are going to gamble if they want to, even if it means travelling to casinos instead.
Tell also said that “not all people who use VLTs have problems” and there are programs to help those who do. For example, she said, site operators must be trained to identify people who may have a gambling problem. The province is also reviewing programs that are currently offered and expects to report the findings in the fall.
“We don’t want to see any more people, whether its male or female, have an increased problem with gambling,” said Tell.
There were about 900 calls made to the provincial problem gambling helpline in 2008-09.