Any remaining hopes the City of Brandon may have entertained in landing a "gaming centre," like the one recently announced for the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, have been dashed.
The provincial government says that option is not in the cards for the Wheat City.
"They continue to say that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is in control of the existing (gaming) licences, that the concept of a gaming centre is unique to the MTS Centre because of its role in downtown revitalization," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said yesterday. "They said no."
Winnipeg’s new facility, a 5,000-square-foot gaming centre featuring 140 slot machines, two poker tables and four blackjack tables, will be operated by Manitoba Lotteries but owned by True North Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Winnipeg Jets.
While Brandon is now forced to consider other options for redevelopment of the soon-to-be demolished Brandon Inn and Brandon Real Estate Building properties along Princess Avenue, the province and the AMC have refused to comment on possible delays plaguing the beleaguered Spirit Sands Casino development near Carberry, which is slated to be up and running by the end of the 2013.
As the Sun first reported yesterday, the AMC and its partners in the Spirit Sands development have yet to hand over site plans to Manitoba Hydro.
Before any power lines can be installed on the site, Hydro requires significant time to plan construction of the lines, a process that can take weeks, months or even years, depending on the projected power needs.
At the same time, the Pasadena, Calif.-based general contractor C.W. Driver, which had been previously chosen to build the casino, confirmed this week that as of late last year it was no longer involved with the scaled-down construction project.
In an email to the Sun yesterday, AMC spokesperson Sheila North Wilson said her organization would not be providing any comment or update on the construction timeline.
"There is no information to share with you at this time," North Wilson wrote."When there is an update, I will be sure to share that with you."
The Sun also attempted to reach Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for gaming for clarification on the government’s policy for aboriginal casino development.
In an email exchange with the minister’s spokeswoman, Sally Housser, the Sun inquired how long the province was prepared to wait for the Spirit Sands development to move forward, whether any time limits had been discussed for the AMC’s efforts to use the three outstanding casino licences given by the province and whether the government’s current policy on aboriginal casino development had been subject to a review process.
Housser said that Chomiak was unavailable for comment yesterday and that there were "no plans for changes to the current policy."
That fact didn’t sit well with Decter Hirst, who yesterday questioned why the AMC and the province were stubbornly refusing to consider Brandon’s potential, especially in light of the ongoing problems with the Spirit Sands development.
"Brandon continues to be a great business opportunity for gaming in the province of Manitoba," Decter Hirst said. "A better opportunity than anywhere else right now. If they’re serious about economic development, if they’re frankly serious about downtown revitalization, if they’re serious about employment and job creation opportunities, when they have to at some point look in a different direction than the Spirit Sands casino at Carberry.
"And so, at what point is that? How patient are they on how long its going to take to get that project off the ground?"
She also suggested, again, that the Manitoba government should revisit its 2007 First Nation Gaming Market Study that suggested western Manitoba could only sustain one medium-sized casino.
The newly appointed gaming critic for the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, Cliff Cullen, agreed with the mayor, suggesting that the province should revisit the study.
"It might be relevant to have another look at those studies to see what the possibility could be for gaming in the future," Cullen said, adding that he hoped the AMC and the province would be "up front" with the public about any potential delays to the Spirit Sands development.
"Clearly we should be identifying what the road blocks are and then doing what we can to get those road blocks out of the way."
However, when asked whether his party was in favour of the current NDP policy on aboriginal gaming in Manitoba, Cullen declined to provide comment.
"I’m not going to comment on our policy," he said. "I’d better not. It’s not my place to do that."
Aside from his new gaming critic duties, Cullen is the MLA for the constituency of Spruce Woods, a region that stands to benefit from the Spirit Sands Casino should it be built on the Swan Lake reserve along Highway 5 as planned.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 7, 2013