A new VLT revenue-sharing model for veterans’ organizations in Manitoba is being welcomed by local clubs but branch members are hedging their bets when it comes to their financial future.
The province of Manitoba announced a new revenue split for veterans’ organizations that have video lotto terminals in their clubs on Nov. 7. The new agreement will see Legions and local Army, Navy, and Air Force Veterans clubs keep 30 per cent of VLT revenue, an increase of five per cent.
Garry Reid, treasurer and finance chair of the Fort Garry Legion No. 90 (1125 Pembina Hwy.), said the club’s six machines pull in about $4,000 a week, and revenue from VLTs and gaming is the second-largest source of income, after the bar.
"It’s not going to result in a significant increase in revenue for us," Reid said. "It’s not going to make a lot of difference to us, but any little bit helps struggling Legions.
"They are struggling."
Under the previous revenue-sharing model, the Legion would take home a grand from VLT revenues weekly. On average, the bump amounts to about $200 more per week for the branch.
"We’re happy with it. I’ve been pushing for that for a little while myself. I’ve been treasurer for five years now, and I thought it was unfair that they were taking 75 per cent of our net."
Reid said the Legion isn’t interested in adding more VLTs to its room in the near future, noting the six they operate now aren’t getting the highest use as it is, and only certain events attract enough folks to justify six terminals.
However, revenue pulled in at the slot machines does cushion the Legion’s operating budget, as it’s not regulated by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries in the same way as bingo and chase the ace.
"We are struggling, no question about it because in the last few years it’s been difficult to attract young people into the Legion, let alone servicemen," Reid said.
According to the province, there are a total of 429 VLTs installed in 58 veterans’ organizations in Manitoba. In all, there are 4,982 VLTs at commercial sites in the province.
The changes to the revenue-sharing model between veterans’ organizations and MLL are being implemented on an interim basis as the provincial government awaits the results of a gaming review announced in fall 2018.
At ANAVETS Rockwood No. 303 (341 Wilton St.), president Duncan Anderson said their year-to-date revenue from VLTs is around $85,000, a decrease of about $6,000 from 2018.
"We have some of the very old machines and what’s happened is a lot of the other bars are putting in new machines, and they have new games, and I think people are being attracted to those," Anderson said. "They (MLL) should be looking at our clubs too, and putting the new machines in."
Anderson said the uptick in revenue-sharing may help cover the shortfall in the budget over last year, and generally Rockwood dedicates cash from its 10 VLTs to operating expenses, or donates to charitable organizations.
"If you talk to most bars and most outlets, you’d find it’s a very critical part of operations," he said.
Anderson said the club is looking at ways to generate income apart from gaming.
"The number one issue, especially with veterans’ organizations, is increasing our membership," Anderson said. "We’re reducing membership and that’s happening all over. I think that we as an organization have to go out there and promote ourselves, and get more members in, and then become less reliant on things like VLTs."
Reid said a granting program to allow veterans’ organizations to update their facilities to attract new patrons and make their facilities accessible would go a long way in supporting branches in the province.
"We’re a stodgy old place. We don’t have money to improve it, or brighten it up, or add a few TVs to provide a place for people to come watch their sports," Reid said. "There should be some government grants to assist the Legions."
In addition to the new revenue-sharing model, the province said it is planning to introduce legislation exempting veterans’ organizations from municipal property tax. In Winnipeg, veterans organizations are currently exempt from property tax, except for "taxation for local improvements," according to the Veterans Associations Exemption bylaw.
The province has also announced a Military Memorial Conservation grant program for veterans’ organizations, municipalities and private groups to maintain military memorials.