A panel of seven experts debated the impact, positive and negative, of the Sand Hills Casino at the Keystone Centre last night.
Speaking to a crowd of 35 people, the panel had one notable absentee — a representative from the casino.
"It was tough to identify someone from the management group to invite, and I never did hear back from them," said Brandon University Prof. Doug Ramsey.
"I hope that is because they are very busy right now."
Ramsey, who works in the Department of Rural Development, organized the evening.
The panel was a who’s who of affected parties from the casino, which is set to open in the spring.
Area reeves and mayors, two professors with knowledge about casinos, tourism officials and the manager of a current casino in Manitoba sat at the front of the amphitheatre.
"We view our casino as a learning centre for our employees," said Suzanne Barbeau-Bracegirdle, CEO of Aseneskak Casino near The Pas.
She said she believes her casino has had a positive impact on the area and the six First Nations communities that benefit from it.
If she has one criticism for the Sand Hills Casino, it’s that the management group isn’t local.
"That’s my biggest problem with the whole thing," she said.
Glenboro Mayor Robert Jewsbury said council has been on board with the project from day one, but admits there are people who were less than enthused in the community.
"We hope in the big picture it will do more good than harm," Jewsbury said, adding that some people are concerned it might attract more crime.
The 31,000-square-foot casino, formerly known as the Spirit Sands Casino, is being built on Swan Lake First Nation land near Highway 5 between Glenboro and Carberry.
Once operational, the casino will employ approximately 160 full-time and 50 part-time employees.
Carberry deputy mayor Stu Olmstead said any community in Westman would jump at the opportunity to land a major industry bringing that many jobs to the area.
"It fell into our lap to a certain degree," he said. "We will be the gateway to the casino and to what degree of economic activity will we see. I think we will know that a lot better in five years."
Wes Roehl, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, connected to the panel through Skype, giving a presentation at the beginning to get the discussion started.
According to a survey he conducted, approximately two-thirds of casino visitors end up shopping in neighbouring communities, while more than 50 per cent eat away from the casino.
"Communities need to be ready to capitalize on the opportunities," he said. "Most people will look for activities beyond the casino floor."
University of Alberta Prof. Tom Hinch said most of the Sand Hills Casino patrons will come from Westman, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
"Those same people may have gone elsewhere if you didn’t have the casino in the area," Hinch said.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed