Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) Are Coming Back to Alberta

Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) invaded Alberta about 30 years ago. Today, you will find more than 60,000 of these electronic machines in over 800 lounges and bars in Alberta, except for nine communities that took the brave decision to ban these machines about two decades ago.

The History of Video Lottery Terminals

The residents first got to experience the fun behind VLTs in 1991. It didn’t take the trend to grow and by 1992, thousands of electronic gambling machines were installed in barrooms. However, it didn’t take too long for criticism to start pouring in.

Maclean’s magazine named VLTs “the devil’s television,” in 1988 due to their wide growth and the risk of addiction.

This started a new wave and within a few months, ten communities decided to ban VLTs and 37 municipalities chose to hold plebiscites. 

This was nearly two decades ago and things aren’t the same anymore. 

Casinos have entered the landscape and online gambling is also a reality. Gamblers or players do not have to turn to physical machines to gamble, they can do it all from the comfort of their homes by logging into a betting app.

Still, VLTs are banned in many municipalities and communities including Stony Plain, Lacombe, Cardston, the Municipal District of Opportunity, Sylvan Lake, Coaldale, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and Canmore. However, there’s hope that things may change as there seems to be support behind these machines.

And Now It’s Back

Things took a turn in the first quarter of 2020 when Rocky Mountain House decided to reverse the decision to ban VLTs. There was no controversy or noise. A three-member committee sat down in March to discuss the future of VLTs. Only one person opposed the idea and two agreed, a few months later and VLTs are back in town. 

This was in contrast to 1997 when there was wide opposition from religious leaders who spoke heavily against gambling machines. The issue did come to the fore in 2009 and was discussed among members, leading to another plebiscite.

Over the years, the council had received several requests from bar owners to reconsider the decision to ban VLTs. Larry Dunn and Paula Anderson, co-owners of Rockies Lounge, started a campaign about four years ago to change things.

“We were expecting quite a bit of backlash from the public, because VLTs is kind of a controversial subject and not a lot of people showed up at the meeting,” Anderson told CBC’s Edmonton AM.

“It was advertised, [the public forum] was there for people to go and voice their opinion and it didn’t happen.”

Mayor Tammy Burke said the council didn’t take the move lightly. 

Burke said the focus should be on providing help to problem gamblers. Anyone who wants to gamble could find a VLT just a few kilometers away from Rocky Mountain House, she said.

What’s the Future?

It’s believed that some other Alberta communities may also decide to uplift the ban. Coaldale and Stony Plain are already in discussion. 

Stony Plain is currently surveying businesses and residents to understand their opinion on VLTs.