Opinion by Helge Nome
The people of Rocky Mountain House will be voting on whether Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) should be allowed back
into the town after an absence of many years.
But first, here is some history on gambling in Alberta from http://gamblinginamerica.name/alberta-gambling-inamerica/
“Alberta has many other types of gambling, including all forms of pari-mutuel operations, both on-track and offtrack. Raffles
and pull tabs are sold by charities. The most prevalent form of gambling, however, is found in the bars and taverns of the
province. By 1999 more than 6,000 video lottery terminals were operating in 1,200 locations, producing about $300 million in
revenue, which is about 70 percent of the gaming revenue produced in the province. In that year the popular machines
(which provide an average gaming revenue of $50,000 a year) accounted for a per capita gaming participation of about
$1,300 per adult, the largest in Canada and North America, with the exception of Nevada. Studies have also revealed that
Albertans have the highest rate of problem gambling in Canada. Efforts to ban the terminals have been concerted, with local
elections called in 1998 in most of the cities. Only in a few smaller cities did the voters choose to ban the machines.”
And one of those towns was Rocky Mountain House.
Now the issue is back on the front burner with a new plebiscite on Monday, July 27, requested by the bar and tavern owners
in the town. A petition signed by local people prompted the Town Council to conduct the poll again, to see whether there has
been a change in public opinion.
The bar and tavern owners argue that they are being unfairly treated by missing out on the revenue stream from video lottery
terminals. And they have a point as local residents simply go to surrounding communities to satisfy their gambling instinct
and beverage thirst. So, it's a double whammy for Rocky bar owners.
On the other side of the ledger, VLT gambling is highly addictive and can quickly fleece people of their savings, pay and
credit rating. And the environment is generally one where alcohol is readily available to cloud the mind of the patron to the
advantage of the bar owner and the Government of Alberta.
This kind of gambling was introduced into Alberta by the PC government without any public consultation whatsoever. It was
introduced as a cash cow for politicians by their vested interest friends who stood to gain hugely from this venture. And the
public was bought off by directing some of the funds towards non profit organizations and public enterprises.
A win-win for everybody, it seems, except for the problem gamblers whose lives, and the lives of those around them, are
maimed and destroyed by their gambling habits. And now we have a situation where we are all hooked on gambling : The
recipients of gambling monies, and those that get fleeced providing it.
The Rocky bar and tavern owners have survived so far without their VLTs, otherwise they wouldn't be there to organize a
petition. They can argue that the recession is hurting them badly.
The question is, how does the recession affect the problem gamblers?