Most Alberta municipalities, even those that frown on gambling, have come to the conclusion there’s little point in fighting the ubiquitous video lottery terminal. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mike Groll

VLTs have slowly shed their stigma

It isn’t hard to find a VLT today.

But it wasn’t always that way, recalls Red Deer historian Michael Dawe.

Rocky Mountain House only recently overturned its ban on the gambling machines after about two decades.

VLTs were launched in Alberta in the early 1990s, and quickly became popular, said Dawe.

“Within a few years, you start to get the other side of the community saying, ‘we’re concerned about the impact this is having on our citizens,’” said Dawe.

“And you started to see a lot of votes (at the municipal level) in the late ‘90s.”

Around 1997, Rocky Mountain House town council received a petition to remove VLTs from the community. A plebiscite was held, with a majority voting to remove the machines, which they were.

The question of VLTs was raised again in Rocky Mountain House in 2009, when bar owners presented a petition to town council to lift the ban.

The town held another plebiscite that year, and as a result, VLTs remained absent from the community.

The issue came up again in July 2019 during council meetings, after Jason Alderson, a town councillor, said he had received inquiries about the issue.

The town got in touch with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis and held an open house to give residents an opportunity to speak about the matter.

There wasn’t a lot of backlash.

According to council meeting documents, two people spoke in favour of having VLTs and one against.

Mayor Tammy Burke said there wasn’t much controvery, and the ban was lifted.

“I think it’s probably because times have changed. You can gamble now on your phone, you can gamble in your own home, and you don’t have to seek out a machine such as this,” said the mayor.

For those with gambling addiction, the mayor said the focus should be on the affliction itself, and not on VLTs, because people can drive outside of town to access the machines, or they can also gamble on their devices at home.

“You can also drive 20 minutes down the road and you can go to a business that does have them, so it was more fair for the businesses in Rocky Mountain House that wanted to have them,” said Burke.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were several communities that held plebiscites across the province, asking communities whether they wanted to have or remove VLTs, says Dawe.

“You had a hodge-podge. You had places like Rocky Mountain House that did that, and there were quite a number of places in rural southern Alberta where they were banned, like Coaldale and Cardston,” he said.

Even then, people could drive out to other places to access the machines.

The Town of Sylvan Lake also held a plebiscite in 1997, and a petition was attempted around 2006, a town spokesperson said, adding the petition failed to meet the requirements to be considered valid.

The spokesperson added, at this time, Sylvan Lake doesn’t have any plans to reconsider the old bylaw, which bans VLTs in the municipality.

The ban on VLTs also still exists in the City of Lacombe, a spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.

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