COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Sand Hills Casino, located on Swan Lake First Nation land near Highway 5 south of Carberry, is set to open in the spring.
Hundreds of job applications have flooded into Sand Hills Casino management as the province’s newest gaming centre is set to open in the spring.
The 31,000-square-foot casino, which was formerly known as the Spirit Sands Casino, is being built on Swan Lake First Nation land near Highway 5 south of Carberry.
Brandon University is hosting an informative session on the impacts of the Sand Hills Casino at the Keystone Centre's amphitheatre Feb. 24 starting at 6 p.m.The event, which will be mediated by BU's department of rural development, will feature a panel of experts who will speak to several issues, including the potential spinoff economies, challenges regarding the casino's rural location and other positive and negative impacts the casino might have."We wanted to do this because it seemed really quiet and there isn't a lot of discussion about the casino, so now would be a good time," department chair Doug Ramsey said.Local municipal representatives, such as Carberry Mayor Wayne Blair and RM of North Cypress Reeve Ralph Oliver, will sit on the panel.Two academics, including University of Alberta Prof. Tom Hinch who has written several books about First Nations, sport and tourism, will also present and take questions from the audience.Lois MacDonald, manager of the Riverbank Development and Tourism Services for Brandon, will sit on the panel.However, the prize of the panel is Suzanne Barbeau-Bracegirdle, the CEO of the Aseneskak Casino in Opaskwayak Cree Nation."She is going to speak about their experience in The Pas," Ramsey said.The casino shares many similarities with Sand Hills as it is located outside an urban centre, The Pas.Ramsey is hoping for a large and active crowd to spur debate."We don't want to focus on casino, bad, because it's here so what can we do to accrue the greatest positive impact and mitigate the negative impacts," Ramsey said.» Brandon Sun
Barbara Czech, a spokesperson for the casino, said the project’s manager, Hemisphere Gaming, has hired a director of operations and a director of human resources. They have also set up a temporary office and training centre in Brandon.
Once fully operational, the casino will employ approximately 160 full-time and 50 part-time employees.
"Many casino jobs require very specific training and that varies depending on the position," Czech said.
The casino’s website — sandhillscasino.com — advertises positions for jobs ranging from bartender to executive assistant, and pit boss to security director.
While some positions require experience, other jobs, such as table dealers, require one to two months of training that will be provided.
Sand Hills will feature seven table games and 350 slot machines on its gaming floor. It will also include a restaurant, lounge and back of house operations space.
Hemisphere Gaming, which financed and developed the casino, will also manage the facility and staff. Profits — after a management fee is paid — will be shared equally with all 63 Manitoba First Nations.
When it comes to hiring, Czech said there is no requirement to hire First Nations people, "but the intention is certainly to hire as many qualified First Nations people as possible."
"We look to hire the best people for the job but, all other things being roughly equal, then priority would be given to aboriginal candidates," she said.
It’s the same practice used at South Beach Casino and Resort, which is located on the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, and approximately 55 per cent of the staff are aboriginal, according to Czech.
While originally South Beach was only a casino constructed in 2005, three years later a 95-room hotel was built adjacent to the casino.
"It’s too early to talk about additional phases with any certainty (at the Sand Hills Casino), but the plan has always been to take a phased approach to development," Czech said. "As business grows and additional investment is warranted, then yes, we would look at expanding."
The lack of a major hotel in the area is something the City of Brandon is hoping to capitalize on.
Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development, said as the service centre for southwestern Manitoba, Brandon is part of a hub and spoke system.
While many visitors will explore the amenities of the area — the spokes, such as the casino — the hub is in Brandon, which boasts a wide range of accommodation, entertainment, restaurants and shopping. It’s Brandon where visitors set up camp.
"The casino is another added attraction and amenity in the region that we want to make sure we’re extending people’s stays and drawing them into the city," Trudel said.
The mission from the city’s perspective is straightforward.
"Our goal is to get them here, keep them here as long as we can and get them to spend as much money as possible," Trudel said.
The casino is another part of package to draw tourist to the area, and Brandon.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 15, 2014