“The funding cuts … resulted in a need for us to accelerate some of our economic development plans and as such we certainly won’t be sitting around waiting for another two years to make something happen.”
— Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak
In the clearest signal yet that the AMC is seriously considering a Brandon proposal for a First Nations casino, Grand Chief Nepinak told the Sun that finances, not politics, would guide the organization’s decision.
As we reported yesterday, Nepinak said that good decisions are made when they are based “on solid business principles.” He made it rather clear that if it comes down to where to build the casino, he would look at the business case.
Nepinak made his comments during a meeting of First Nations delegates for the National Treaties 1-11 gathering hosted by the Keeseekoowenin First Nation just north of Brandon.
To echo Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who had offered greetings to the gathering delegates earlier this week, the casino question is no doubt on the minds of participants from Manitoba as they talk treaties, finances and politics.
Reading between the lines, we would suggest the Grand Chief is leaning toward the Brandon proposal, especially given the quote at the top of the page. And here’s why: As of Oct. 1, it will be exactly two years since the AMC, the province, Swan Lake First Nation and Red Lake Gaming Enterprises from Minnesota held a groundbreaking ceremony at the planned site for the Spirit Sands Casino near Carberry.
It was supposed to be located on Swan Lake land next to Highway 5, about 16 kilometres south of the Trans-Canada Highway. In 2010, the AMC completed a 45-year lease with Swan Lake First Nation for use of the land as well as a general services agreement with the band.
And yet, since that groundbreaking date, there has been no construction and lots of delays. As of May last year, the AMC’s director of business economic development, Bartley Harris, told the Sun that the organization was still working with potential financiers for the project, “and those are very near completion.” It’s the same line the AMC has been handing media since the groundbreaking occurred and nothing has come of it.
The push to make a decision on when and where to move forward with Manitoba’s third aboriginal-run casino has also been hastened by the fact that the AMC’s core funding has been rolled back to $500,000 from $2.6 million.
In order to keep running at the same level it has until this point, the AMC will need cash, a reality that Nepinak says has pushed the timeline forward for a Westman casino — he says a decision could be made within the next six months.
There’s little doubt, to our minds anyway, that Brandon is the better location for such a gaming facility. We’ve said as much more than once on this page. And we don’t make this assertion simply because Brandon is the second largest city in the province. An independent third party retained by the provincial government and the AMC came to the same conclusion in a report entitled the Manitoba First Nation Gaming Market Study, which was released in August 2007.
The study concluded that the Brandon market area (100 kilometres around Brandon) could currently support one small-sized casino facility. In response to those findings, the AMC and the province both agreed that any new casino should be developed specifically within the Brandon market area.
To be fair, the still-delayed Spirit Sands project falls within that range. But if the AMC is intent on building a casino in the region, it makes so much more sense to move it closer to the centre of the market area, for maximum financial impact.
The Tribal Councils Investment Group, which has partnered with the City of Brandon in a bid to explore the business case for a casino in this city, already sees the potential financial benefits. Otherwise they would not have entertained any such partnership in the first place.
The real problem facing the AMC in making a decision is not whether a Brandon casino will make money, but rather how to placate Swan Lake First Nation.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 13, 2012