VLT numbers down, but profits rebounding

Rob Antle
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No firm reasons for revenue upswing

Fewer bells are swinging, but government coffers are still ringing.

Finance Minister Tom Marshall

The Williams administration has pulled the plug on roughly 25 per cent of the province’s video-lottery terminals (VLTs) over the past five years. But after a period of decline, VLT profits are returning to previous levels.

Finance Minister Tom Marshall says the reasons for the rebound in revenues are unclear.

But Marshall did offer some anecdotal evidence to help explain the reversal.

“We’ve had a bit of an increase in the population, but we also have an aging of the population, so I would think more people are retiring and have more time for entertainment activities,” he said.

“No. 2, I think the province has been much more prosperous than it was, and people’s disposable incomes have gone up.”

He also said that the games have changed, with new graphics, for example.

“I’m told that when that happens, you can see a bump in activity.”

According to Marshall, there were 2,687 VLTs in the province in the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Revenues for the Newfoundland and Labrador government came in at $86.7 million.

The next year, 2005-06, the number of machines had dropped to 2,644, and revenues were down to $73.4 million.

Profits continued to drop in concert with further reductions in machines over the next two years, according to figures provided by Marshall, bottoming out below $65 million.

“What was happening was what we envisaged: you reduce the number of machines and the revenue would obviously come down,” the minister noted.

But in 2008-09 — as the number of machines continued to drop, down to 2,157 — revenues rebounded to $73.8 million.

Last year, with fewer machines again, the government received more than $75 million from the swinging bells.

That means that the province was making more money from VLTs in 2009-10 than it was four years earlier — despite gamblers having nearly 600 fewer machines to play.

In 2006, the government launched a strategy to reduce the number of VLTs in the province by 15 per cent over five years.

“We’ve had a bit of an increase in the population, but we also have an aging of the population, so I would think more people are retiring and have more time for entertainment activities." Finance Minister Tom Marshall

That target has been exceeded. The number is closer to 25 per cent.

In 2007, the province brought in other measures to reduce VLT play.

VLT operating hours were cut to a 12-hour window between noon and midnight. Previously, the hours were 9 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.

The machines were reprogrammed to slow play by 30 per cent. And the stop-button feature was removed from VLTs, further slowing play.

According to Marshall, the most recent figures saw 2,013 VLTs operating in the province — down nearly 700 machines from six years ago.

The current five-year VLT reduction plan expires next March.

It’s unclear what will happen then.

“At some point, we will look at it again, with the steps for the next strategy. It would be premature to say what that is right now.”

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: VLT

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Freda
    August 23, 2010 - 12:48

    Cut out all the machines and bring back the good ole game of 120. More enjoyment and no one losing their homes. Service clubs would prosper as well.

  • Donna
    August 23, 2010 - 10:16

    It sickens me to see people pumping their hard-earned money into the guts of these government-aproved vultures. The increase in revenue that the Atlantic Lottery Corporation is raking in is not due to "retired people with lots of time on their hands",,,,,,,,,,, It's due to the fact that these video lotto machines are constantly being reprogrammed to pay out less. The attractive graphics of some of these games are designed to catch the eye and almost hypnotize the vulnerable people who sit down to play them. I have seen players lose a full week's pay in the matter of a few minutes. I think that having these machines in every available bar and restaurant is too convenient for problem gamblers. In my opinion, they should be taken out of these establishments and placed in one location,,,,,,,,,,,,away from the general population. Too many people are losing too much money, families are suffering, and marriages/relationships are breaking up because of them. Shame on the government for letting this type of activity to continue. Bar owners say that they "couldn't make a go of it" without those vlt's,,,,,,,,,,,How did they all manage to make a go of it before, I wonder???? It must be nice to be raking in such a hugh amount of money without having to raise a finger to get it!!!!! Someone in the government should be commissioned to write a "HOW TO" book,,,,,,,,,,,,Maybe then we could ALL get in on the action.

  • Denise Browne
    August 21, 2010 - 17:23

    I wonder how Mr. Marshall was able to keep a straight face as he gave his, likely bogus, reasons for the increase in VLT revenues. They've reduced the number of machines in bars, reduced the amount of time these machines are running from 18 hours a day to 12 and he's trying to tell us that revenue has risen because people are retiring and have time and money and overall Newfoundlanders have more disposable income. Isn't it more likely that the machines keep getting tweaked so that these poor schmucks just keep loosing more and more. I'm surprised his nose didn't grow so long as to tip him over. Shame on Mr. Marshall and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for "legally" robbing the people of this province.

  • just vsisiting
    August 21, 2010 - 15:13

    Mr Marshall,I think you should be up front with the people and let them know that these VLT's are programmed to suck the money from the user,even though there are 25% less machines they are programmed to not pay out as much.So when you say you revenues are unclear,maybe this is the reason.

  • loving nl.
    August 21, 2010 - 10:03

    Well it seems for a have province so were told?,were acting like a "have not" province!,If we need these machines then i guess were not in the shape were told we are!!,Just saying.