Rocky residents vote on VLTs

After 12 years without VLTs in Rocky Mountain House, residents will vote today on whether to bring them back.

After 12 years without VLTs in Rocky Mountain House, residents will vote today on whether to bring them back.

A representative of bar owners in Rocky Mountain House says the economic downturn means they’ll have to lay off staff if more money doesn’t come in.

But a Rocky Mountain House pastor says it isn’t worth the harm that the VLTs could bring to the community.

Pastor Len Batterink wasn’t a part of the group that originally opposed VLTs more than a decade ago. He moved to the community four years ago and is the pastor at First Christian Reformed Church in Rocky Mountain House.

He said since the VLTs haven’t been allowed in the community, the magnitude of the gambling addiction problem has grown in the province.

“There is still a pretty strong correlation between this particular gambling format and problem gambling. That has always been our beef with it,” Batterink said.

Batterink said he has heard stories of people gambling away not only their money but also their family’s money, and others who have been imprisoned for fraud while feeding a gambling habit.

“It isn’t about pastors imposing morality on the town. We’re a free society. We understand that. We’re talking about harm reduction here and the harms done by these (VLTs) are significant.”

He doesn’t just want the machines to stay out of Rocky Mountain House, but he would also like to see them out of Alberta.

“I don’t think they should be anywhere in the province,” he said. “These things are tricked up a little bit to keep people playing them and that is just inappropriate and it’s wrong.”

But Jim Pogson, with the Rocky Mountain House Pubs and Lounge Association, is hoping to have VLTs allowed back into the community. With the economy taking a beating, he is hoping the extra revenue from the machines could mean he can keep the staff he has at Duffers Pub in the Tamarack Motor Inn in Rocky Mountain House.

“I find it’s frustrating, especially church groups, they keep thinking I’m a greedy owner. Well I’m not an owner. I’m a manager and I myself don’t make anything off VLTs coming into the bar, the thing I get is I can guarantee my staff have jobs and that they’re secure,” Pogson said.

He said in recent months business has been down 30 to 40 per cent. He doesn’t expect the VLTs will make a difference on the weekends, but during the week he thinks the gambling machines could bring in more people and increase liquor sales.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re sending our business to Leslieville, Caroline and even Red Deer when we could be keeping it here in town,” Pogson said.

Pogson wants to level the playing field. He said if VLTs are available in other places around the province, they should be available in Rocky Mountain house as well.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com

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