Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province to roll out 500 new VLTs for $18M in new revenue

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The Selinger government is expanding the number of VLTs in Manitoba -- a move that is expected to bring in an extra $18 million a year to the government's coffers.

The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. will soon distribute up to 500 new video lottery terminals to hotels and beverage rooms, ending a longtime moratorium on VLT expansion in such locations.

Some VLT facts

  • 4,482 VLTs are currently located in hotels, beverage rooms and legions;
  • 140 are located at Assiniboia Downs;
  • 1,231 are located on Manitoba First Nations;
  • 500 will soon be added to hotels and beverage rooms (although not to facilities operated by veterans' groups, which currently have 404 of the machines in total).

-- source: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp.

The move will bring the total number of VLTs in the province to 6,353.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives immediately pounced on the government for preying on vulnerable Manitobans to pad its revenues when it should instead be looking for savings.

"They can't get their spending under control and they're looking for more revenue," PC Leader Brain Pallister said outside the legislature on Monday.

The Conservatives, citing the publication Canadian Gaming Digest, said Manitoba already has the highest ratio of VLTs of any province in Canada. They noted the NDP, before gaining power, once called VLTs the "crack cocaine" of gaming.

Susan Olynik, vice-president of corporate communications and social responsibility with the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp., said the decision to increase the number of VLTs in hotels and beverage rooms was "in response to consumer and site-holder demand."

She said hotels and beverage rooms will be given the opportunity to add VLTs, depending on the volume of business they currently bring in. That will occur as the machines become available. Liquor and Lotteries is raising the cap on the number of VLTs these facilities are permitted to operate to 40 from 35.

At the same time, commissions paid to site-holders will increase to 22 per cent from 20 per cent on the first $200,000 of VLT revenues. Commissions on the next $200,000 will remain at 20 per cent and then fall after that to 18.5 per cent.

The minister responsible for lotteries, Steve Ashton, said Monday most sites will benefit from the new rules -- either through more commissions or the ability to offer more VLTs. "It doesn't establish new sites," he said of the expansion. "There's no new casinos out of this."

Asked about the hypocrisy of demonizing VLTs while in Opposition and expanding their presence once in government, Ashton said the NDP is devoting more money than ever before to the treatment of gambling addictions in Manitoba. He said the Conservatives introduced VLTs to Manitoba and, one year, even cut funding to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

The government has vowed two per cent of the profits from the newly merged Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. will be spent on responsible gaming and consumption.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries says there are now 4,482 VLTs in its commercial VLT program. That includes machines at hotels, beverage rooms, legions (404) and Tavern United (50) next to the MTS Centre. There are another 140 at Assiniboia Downs and 1,231 on Manitoba First Nations.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 B6

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