Though a casino site for Brandon had not yet been officially chosen, the Tribal Councils Investment Group had already signed a conditional agreement to lease a plot of land near the Trans-Canada Highway, owned by a consortium of three Westman First Nations.
The same First Nation consortium — including Keeseekoowenin, Rolling River and Waywayseecappo — that lost the right to host Manitoba’s third aboriginal casino more than two years ago.
The First Nations ConsortiumIn the wake of Brandon's second plebiscite in 2008 -- in which residents once again voted against the construction of a casino within city limits -- the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba government announced that the province's next casino would be built on the Wheat City's doorstep in the RM of Elton, as part of a proposal put forward by three Westman First Nations,The casino was to be built on 534 acres of farmland near the northwest corner of the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 10 in the RM of Elton. The facility would be jointly owned by Manitoba's 64 First Nations.One year later, however, negotiations between the AMC and the consortium broke down over how to split the casino revenues, a situation that ultimately resulted in the gaming licence being taken away from the consortium.Subsequently, the AMC decided to construct the Spirit Sands Casino on Swan Lake First Nation land south of Carberry along Highway 5.As such, the possibility of a Brandon casino had appeared to be a bad bet until earlier this year when Mayor Shari Decter Hirst announced an "unprecedented partnership" between the City of Brandon and the Tribal Councils Investment Group, to examine the financial case for a casino development inside city limits.The partnership occurred after Waywayseecappo First Nation asked the AMC to abandon its plans for the Spirit Sands Casino and build it on their proposed site adjacent to Brandon.» Brandon Sun
“We had an agreement signed (for) a sizable piece of land,” TCIG CEO Allan McLeod told the Sun this week. “We had the land portion of our business plan taken care of for sure. That’s where the business plan was pointing as the right location.”
Earlier this year, the City of Brandon and TCIG had partnered to explore the financial case for a casino development, after First Nation consortium members publicly called upon the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to reconsider their bid for a casino development on the outskirts of the city in the RM of Elton near the Trans-Canada Highway.
The new partners had made overtures to the AMC in the hopes that the assembly would consider supporting a Brandon casino. Where a potential casino development would go, however, was to be decided in consultation with an outside third party that would base its recommendation purely on a business case.
When reached on Friday afternoon, Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand said TCIG had made a memorandum of understanding agreement with the consortium on its own, as a way to keep all of their options open in the event the site was seen as the right location.
“It didn’t bind us by any means and I think that’s the difference,” Hildebrand said. “Because we still needed to do the proper evaluation of what the best place would be.”
As well, both Hildebrand and McLeod suggested that while the business plan was incomplete, in that they needed AMC to be on board, they had essentially secured the necessary financial backing to move forward with a casino development following a visit from investment bankers who toured the city in August, if they been given the green light to go ahead.
Nevertheless, any business plan would still have to have been approved by Brandon City Council first.
“There’s one important thing that wasn’t in place, which is part of the commitment to council that once this exploration and business opportunity was put together, we would have to go back to council and make sure we brought them up to speed,” Hildebrand said.
“Without the blessing of council, none of this would happen. That’s an important part of the story. They speak for the residents of Brandon and we needed to take that back to them.”
However, even as TCIG and the city neared completion of their business plan, the AMC appeared to have already made its choice when Grand Chief Derek Nepinak announced on Thursday that Hemisphere Gaming Inc. had signed a 10-year agreement to develop and manage the much-delayed Spirit Sands Casino project near Carberry.
That decision has not deterred TCIG or the City of Brandon, however.
McLeod says he remains very hopeful that the business plan they are putting together will entice the provincial government and the AMC to stay at the negotiating table.
“I think there’s been groups in the past that have pursued quasi-gaming licences, when you look at the Assiniboia Downs and revenue sharing to make MTS Centre happen,” McLeod said.
“When there’s a will there’s a way. And there have been precedents in the past for allowing gaming opportunities that make sense.
“I’m optimistic, but that’s a piece of the puzzle that I have no control over.”
That sentiment was echoed by Hildebrand, who said he still wants the provincial government to look at their business plan.
“I think Brandon is the right location,” Hildebrand said. “I would go and see what our options are, try to work with the provincial government, and even try to work with the tribal council for sure.
“The last thing I would do right now is fold my tent up because I think there’s still a great opportunity for Brandon.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 3, 2012