COLIN CORNEAU/THE BRANDON SUN
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, left, Allan McLeod, president and CEO of Tribals Council Investment Group (centre) and TCIG community business development manager Frank Turner during an interview in the city council chambers on Wednesday evening.
The City of Brandon has partnered with a First Nations business group to examine the financial case for a casino development inside city limits.
Through what the city calls an "unprecedented partnership," the agreement in principle pairs the Tribal Councils Investment Group — the business arm of seven Tribal Council groups representing 55 of Manitoba’s 61 First Nations bands — and the municipal government with the intent of building a casino on city-owned land.
"We have an agreement to work together and there’s a whole lot of questions on the list that over the course of time we’ll have to tick off," Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said Wednesday, prior to today’s announcement of the partnership.
"We don’t know if this will be a viable business, so this is an early stage of the discussion. … We need additional expertise and familiarity that the Tribal Council Investment Group brings to the table."
At this point, neither the City of Brandon or the Tribal Councils Investment Group have a casino or gaming licence for this venture, nor have conversations taken place with the province about this particular proposal. Both parties intend to consult the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the provincial government, but those talks have not yet been held.
"Our relationship with this city goes back years," said Allan McLeod, CEO and managing director of the Tribal Councils Investment Group. "We have quietly owned the Wok Box restaurant here and we have also owned a vending machine business that’s been around for a number of years. We are already part of the community. There should be comfort in the fact we are already doing business here. We think this is right up our skill set."
Decter Hirst said when the subject of a casino in Brandon came up in a conversation with Premier Greg Selinger 18 months ago, the premier asked her if the city government was still interested in a casino.
"I said absolutely, and that the city has to always look at economic development opportunities," Decter Hirst said. "He’s aware that this council is certainly open to those things. Is he aware (there was a meeting Wednesday night)? No."
The agreement also has backing through an Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs resolution that directs the Tribal Councils Investment Group to pursue a casino development as far back as 2009, McLeod said.
Although a selection committee recommended in 2000 the establishment of five First Nations casinos in Manitoba, more than a decade later only two are currently operational. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs holds a licence for a third — the Spirit Sands Casino near Carberry — although the organization has had difficulty securing financial backing for the project, and has yet to begin construction.
"We need to get these other three licences going," McLeod said.
"This may not even be one of those three licenses and may be an additional licence. But with the right attitude and motivation and groups at the table, we can probably help accelerate all of those things because the puzzle pieces of management, finance and experience are all around the table. Now, it’s a matter of just partnering and getting the right plan in place and bringing the deal together."
This recent development transpired as the proposed Spirit Sands project has "continued to languish," Decter Hirst said.
"Then we got a phone call that Waywayseecappo, Keeseekoowenin and Rolling River (bands) were going to talk to AMC about putting a casino on their land at the corner of (Highways) 1 and 10 in the RM of Elton," Decter Hirst said. "This would give Brandon all of the negative consequences of gaming and none of the positives and that would not be in the best interests of the city."
That’s when the Tribal Councils Investment Group got involved, through a link with city manager Scott Hildebrand, a former employee of a TCIG partner business, Frito-Lay.
"If there is no friendship, no comfort level with working together, no opportunity, then someone will try to find an out with the business," McLeod said. "We may still do that at some point if it’s not viable or doesn’t make sense, but at this point we are hitting all the right things. Step 1 is do we get along. Step 2 is agreeing to work together. Step 3 is getting into the details on how we operate and what are the benefits."
The Tribal Councils Investment Group raised money for the establishment of the South Beach Casino project at the Brokenhead First Nation northeast of Winnipeg, and its senior members also have experience with the Aseneskak Casino at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas.
Details on a possible casino development in Brandon are in a very preliminary state. There is no announced plan for a building type, location or what type of casino development the two parties want to see. McLeod said the business case that needs to be made will deal with those details at a later date.
However, both Decter Hirst and McLeod were very clear that there will be no urban reserve in Brandon for any potential casino project.
"We have been in business for more than 20 years and not one of our operations is located on a First Nations reserve," McLeod said. "We deal with multinational corporations, national brands and have been involved in major urban centres."
As well, Brandon voters will not face a third casino plebiscite, as Decter Hirst said the issue will be dealt with at the city council table. However, if the AMC is not on board, that alone may close the door to the idea, Decter Hirst said.
"We are going to make sure the community is very aware of where we are going, the benefits, the risks," Decter Hirst said. "We don’t have plebiscites on whether Maple Leaf is coming to Brandon, or whether the Royal Bank should expand its facilities on 18th Street. This is a business decision. By removing the politics from this, we’ll keep it focused on a business opportunity."
Decter Hirst said the casino concept is not tied to the Downtown HUB secondary use plan or the Roadmap for Growth, and that the location of the casino will be strictly a business decision.
"Our top-line focus is on profit, wealth preservation, making sure a lot of the benefits flow to both parties and all parties involved, and if we do this properly, the banks will love us, our shareholders will love us and the community will love us," McLeod said. "The business will have a long-term track record."
» For full local reaction to these developments and the Sun’s take on it all in Our View, see tomorrow’s print and online editions.
Past casino plebiscites
Brandon residents have had two opportunities to consider the casino question, in 2002 and 2008.
Two casino questions were added to the ballot during the 2002 municipal election in Brandon. The first, "Do you favour the establishment of a casino in the City of Brandon?" was defeated by a 8,523-6,663 margin. The second, "Do you support having a casino built on an urban reserve in the City of Brandon?" was defeated by a 9,478-5,132 margin.
In 2008, a plebiscite asked only one question: "Do you support the establishment of a casino in Brandon — yes or no?" It was defeated by a 6,307-4,715 margin.
» Brandon Sun
About the Tribal Councils Investment Group
• Established in 1990 by the Seven Tribal Councils in Manitoba, representing 55 First Nations communities and 100,000 people;
•Initial investment was $25,000 from each of the Seven Tribal Councils (Swampy Cree, West Region, Interlake Reserves, Dakota Ojibway, Keewatin, Island Lake and Southeast Resource Development Council);
• Operates: First Canadian Fuels, Arctic Beverages, Precambrian Wholesale, Wok Box franchises in Brandon and Winnipeg, First Canadian Financial Group, First Canadian Infrastructure, TCIG-Munro Construction, First Canadian Health Management Corp., First Canadian Bank of Canada, Paragon Pharmacies, Exchange Income Corp., Big Freight Systems, Artis Reit, All in West! Capital Corp., Larters at St. Andrews, The Meadows at East St. Paul Golf Course, Tribal Marketing
• One of its businesses, Arctic Beverages, was named North American Pepsi Bottler of the year for 2006-07;
• Recognized by Manitoba Business Magazine with a 2010 Best Business Practice Award, Top 100 Companies, the 2009 Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Award and the 2009 National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Business.
» Tribal Councils Investment Group report
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 10, 2012