NEAR CARBERRY —Music and bells played from slot machines as Westman residents got their first chance to try their luck at Sand Hills Casino on Sunday. The parking lot, equipped with a free valet, was almost at full capacity by mid-afternoon.
"Lots of people were here yesterday wanting to go in," said a security officer standing outside. "Tomorrow is going to be hectic and busy for the grand opening."
The 31,000-square-foot casino opened its doors at noon on Sunday for a soft opening, and more than 300 people had decided to check it out within the first three hours.
The new casino houses 350 slot machines, table games, a restaurant, lounge and gift shop in a ranch-style structure. It will also house live entertainment on the weekends.
"We are camped at Spruce Woods and thought we should check it out," said one man out front. "No luck though, I went in with $35 and only came out with a free coffee."
Sand Hills Casino is located on Swan Lake First Nation land south of Carberry on Highway 5. It is the third First Nations-owned casino in the province. Profits will be split between all 63 of Manitoba’s First Nations.
A grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting will take place at 11 a.m. today, with the casino officially opening at 12 p.m.
Starting Tuesday, Sand Hills will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day except Sunday when it will open at 12 p.m.
"The casino will attract new visitors to Westman and help to give the area an economic boost," said casino spokesperson Barbara Czech. "Most visitors will probably stay in hotels in Brandon."
It was clear from the amount of discussion in the years leading up to Hemisphere Gaming taking on the project that Westman was interested in this type of attraction, Czech said.
Hemisphere Gaming will manage Sand Hills Casino for 10 years following construction for a substantial fee. Afterwards, the board can choose to extend the agreement or move in a different direction.
It is estimated that the new casino will have $150 million at least in direct and indirect economic impact over the first 10 years, Czech said.
A study done on South Beach Casino and Resort, also managed by Hemisphere and located on the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, showed its economic impact nearing $500 million, according to a casino spokesperson.
"Brandon will be a big beneficiary of the impact," Czech said. "Sand Hills will need to source out an estimated $3 million of goods and services annually and wants to draw from the local area."
The casino employs 160 full-time employees, including 80 from Brandon.
"We are also working with several representatives from the City of Brandon to look at how they can use the casino," Czech said.
The lounge area includes a stage for entertainment on weekends and special events. No events have been announced by Sand Hills yet.
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