TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Frank Turner, community business development manager with the Tribal Councils Investment Group, Allan McLeod, managing director and CEO of TCIG, and Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst speak to reporters at city hall on Thursday.
If Brandon wants a casino, it must first go through the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday after the city and the Tribal Councils Investment Group announced an intent to explore a casino development inside city limits.
"There is a process we follow on deciding whether we support any casino and that’s through the joint gaming table at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and that’s the only way we make decisions on casinos," Selinger said.
Both Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and the city’s new partner, the Tribal Councils Investment Group, have said talks with the AMC are a required step, even before approaching Selinger and the provincial government with a request for a casino licence.
"That’s the only way to do it," Selinger said.
At this point, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is being cautious with its words and actions.
"The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will not be providing any comment on the proposed partnership at this time," AMC spokeswoman Sheila North Wilson said in an email to the Sun.
The exploration of a business case for a Brandon casino came about, in part, because the Spirit Sands casino project south of Carberry remains an empty field with little development three years after the project was announced.
"It has been challenging for them for a number of reasons," Selinger said. "Any issues that arise out of that, we want to resolve at the joint table with the AMC. I am really sticking to process because that’s the best way to move on this, or not. The original report said that one casino could be supported in the southwest region. That was the market analysis. That’s the issue that would have to be addressed."
Selinger said he would look at a Brandon-based proposal if the AMC approved the project, "because that proposal would take into account the impact on the current proposal for Swan Lake."
"I think there could be some concern about (whether the two casinos could coexist)," Selinger said. "That would have to be resolved at the joining gaming table with the AMC. I can’t speak for AMC, but I’d think they would want to ensure that whatever they agreed to had a good chance of viability."
On Wednesday, Tribal Councils Investment Group CEO Allan McLeod said a business case for two casinos in Westman can be made. He used the South Beach Casino project at the Brokenhead First Nation as an example, as it is located northeast of Winnipeg, home of two large provincially operated casinos.
Carberry Mayor Wayne Blair said the conversations his town council has had on the Spirit Sands project with its backers, the Swan Lake First Nation, were to secure fire protection services from the local volunteer fire department.
"That’s one spinoff, where we may have had to upgrade our fire department and may have gotten some dollars from them to do it," Blair said.
Blair said the last discussions he had indicated there was an intent to proceed with the Spirit Sands casino.
"They tell us they are wanting to start this summer or early fall," Blair said. "What’s been the holdup is …they are trying to get all of the financing in order. One of the things is the hydro costs because they need to run a two-phase line down there and that’s a long way. I hear that’s going to be an $800,000 bill. Two-phase line is really expensive."
There are hydro lines of that type nearby, as potato storage sheds require this type of infrastructure, and Blair said trees have been bulldozed to construct those lines. That doesn’t necessarily mean the project will be built quickly on reserve land in the RM of Cypress.
"It’s been supposedly next spring, then next fall, then next summer, and it keeps going on," said RM of South Cypress Reeve Earl Malyon. "We are waiting for the other shoe to drop because we don’t know what’s going on there."
The news of a potential Brandon casino development left one opponent from the 2008 plebiscite stunned. Pastor John Reaves said he was surprised the city had any intentions to resurrect an idea that was twice defeated by Brandon voters "and others were too."
"They just don’t seem to understand what ‘No’ is," Reaves said. "It has come up all the way back to Rick Borotsik and when he wanted it. He said if we spoke out against it, that our money would be going across the border."
Reaves said the way that the casino project has been presented suggests that "they want it one way or the other, no matter what people think."
"The voters have spoken out many times on this," Reaves said. "It seems like they don’t give up, that they are trying to force this on us. We’ll still stand against this, but if they are going to force this on us, are they going to give us a vote? Or will it be they’ll do this one way or another? I don’t know. Anyone that tries to force this, it’s political suicide."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 11, 2012