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Gaming centre more about downtown than Jets: Ashton

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Archives
Steve Ashton: �huge spinoffs�

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Archives Steve Ashton: �huge spinoffs�

PLANS to open a gaming centre in Cityplace have more to do with a long-standing agreement on downtown development than with supporting an NHL hockey team, a senior minister says.

Steve Ashton, the minister responsible for Manitoba Lotteries, said the 5,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open this spring, is merely the execution of a deal put in place before the MTS Centre opened in 2004.

"We had an initial gaming agreement (with True North Sports & Entertainment). We've had 50 (video lottery terminals) in place since Day 1, which provided a source of revenue on an annual basis to maintain our business plan. Now (the MTS Centre) is one of the most successful arenas in North America," he said.

The 15,003-seat facility opened in 2004 with a price tag of $133.5 million. Nearly three-quarters of the price tag, $93 million, came from the private sector. The remaining $40.5 million was shared by three levels of government.

The gaming centre, currently under construction on the second floor of Cityplace, will be owned by True North, owners of the Winnipeg Jets, and operated by Manitoba Lotteries.

It is scheduled to include 140 slot machines, two poker tables and four blackjack tables. Once it opens, the 50 VLTs currently in operation at the Tavern United pub and restaurant, which is adjacent to the MTS Centre, will be removed.

Ashton said Premier Greg Selinger was part of the May 31, 2011, announcement that the NHL was returning to Winnipeg. That day would never have arrived, however, if the groundwork hadn't been done on the MTS Centre, he said.

"We recognized right from Day 1, get the arena, then you could see about getting the Jets back," he said.

"But even without the Jets, (the MTS Centre) has been a huge asset for downtown. With the Jets, it's that much more of an asset."

What has become one of the busiest entertainment venues in North America has helped transform downtown Winnipeg, Ashton said.

"People are coming downtown at night in unprecedented numbers. There are huge spinoffs to the businesses in the area," he said.

"We're committed to the MTS Centre. Are the Jets an important part of that? Absolutely. But there are numerous other activities there. They just had We Day there a short time ago."

Ashton said the premier made it clear when it was announced the NHL was returning that more machines would be needed to support the MTS Centre.

With a "very modest" financial commitment, Ashton said the province has been able to facilitate the construction of a top-tier sports and entertainment facility, which set the stage for the return of the NHL seven years later.

"It's a symbol of the good things that are happening. A lot of the corporate support that's there in bringing the Jets back is there because the province is growing and the economy is doing well," he said.

Because of its size and the fact there are "a couple dozen" restaurants, bars and lounges in the vicinity of the MTS Centre have gaming, Ashton doesn't believe the gaming centre will change the face of downtown.

"This will be on a slightly larger scale and it will be dedicated to the bottom line of the MTS Centre and having the Jets back in Winnipeg," he said.

The province has no plans for any gaming initiatives to support the new home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Investors Group Field, he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

 

WHEN is a gaming centre not a casino? When it's a fraction of the size of Club Regent of McPhillips Station.

To put things in perspective, the new gaming centre being built in cityplace will encompass 5,000 square feet but pale in comparison to McPhillips Station (174,000 square feet) and Club Regent (182,000 square feet).

According to Manitoba Lotteries, the two casinos generated $236.4 million in 2011-12, an increase of 7.1 million or 3.1 per cent from the previous year.

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