Greens promise they'll work to ban VLTs in 'Peg

ROSS ROMANIUK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:19 PM ET

The Green Party wants to stop Winnipeggers' green from flowing into the city's one-armed bandits.

Green candidates will try to disconnect video lottery terminals from Winnipeg if they win council seats in tomorrow's municipal election in an effort to rid the city of gambling-related social problems.

The fledgling party says it will try to force a city-hall vote on a proposal to eliminate VLTS from all bars, restaurants and provincial government casinos within city limits, the same way the town of Winkler did with a referendum in October 1998.

Winnipeg Green Party spokesman Markus Buchart compared Manitoba's VLT operations with "crack houses", which he argued should not receive government support or revenue -- even if that income totals more than $130 million annually.

"The provincial government is essentially a racketeer, like Vegas. And I want to break the racket," said Buchart, who is running for council in St. Vital as part of a six-candidate slate.

"We'd then have a bunch of people who don't have broken families because they don't gamble away all their money. We wouldn't have that anymore."

BINDING PLEBISCITE

The Greens propose a binding plebiscite on an outright VLT ban under Manitoba's Gaming Control Local Option Act. If a city-hall vote on the plebiscite is successful, it would be held the next time voters go to the polls for a municipal election or byelection.

In a municipal vote in October 1998, Winklerites voted 77.8% in favour of banning VLTs in a plebiscite. The small city's council passed a resolution to ban VLTs, though it was not legally binding at the time.

Legislation has since been enacted which allows VLT prohibitions through majority votes that bind municipalities to them.

The problem for the Greens is that their six members -- even if all are elected -- will need more votes among council's 16 representatives to make a ban happen.

Buchart is confident that enough council support would come, despite the city earning a cut of between $7 million and $9 million in each of the past two years, because "people across the spectrum are opposed to the government pushing VLTs."

Officials from Manitoba Lotteries Corp., a Crown agency handling VLTs province-wide, did not return a call for comment.