“I haven’t heard any rumours of a casino coming to Brandon. I can’t imagine the province would be issuing another licence. As far as I know, Carberry’s it.”
— Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, Feb. 10, 2011
“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. 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.”
— Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, May 10, 2012
It’s no secret to those who live in western Manitoba that this paper’s editorial opinion has long supported the notion that the province’s third First Nation casino — if and when it is finally built — should be in Brandon.
Though we admit there are social drawbacks to having such a gaming facility within our midst, we have supported a Brandon-based casino because we believe the economic benefits for the city and for Manitoba First Nations outweigh any negative connotations that might exist.
But those benefits would only be realized if the city was a partner at the gaming table. As the mayor noted above, having a First Nation casino on the edge of the city that would pay nothing to city coffers, but provide most of the negative consequences, was a bad deal for Brandon. The city was right to take action, when the spectre of a casino on the edge of Brandon and outside council jurisdiction rose once more.
However, this plain fact has seemingly escaped the Town of Carberry municipal council. In a letter to the editor in today’s Brandon Sun, the Town of Carberry has chastised this paper and Brandon officials for not being supportive of the Spirit Sands Casino, and by association, the town of Carberry.
“We are disheartened that one of the few surviving major media outlets for western Manitoba has taken a stand that the only place a casino should be built is within Brandon,” the letter states.
“The Spirit Sands project will be a boon for many businesses throughout western Manitoba, many which are located in Brandon.”
The council also feels we are guilty of calling Carberry “barren” and in the “middle of nowhere,” when it comes to the location of the Spirit Sands Casino. This is not actually true. We have never and would never say that about Carberry or any small town within Westman.
Just as these towns rely on Brandon as a major centre of business and entertainment, the city’s continued economic health relies on the many rural communities that surround it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t believe Carberry or Glenboro will actually see the substantive economic benefits their town councils believe are coming with the construction of Spirit Sands.
That casino will not be located within any community base — Spirit Sands will be built about 16 kilometres south of the Trans-Canada Highway on Swan Lake First Nation reserve land along Highway 5.
Carberry and Glenboro may be supportive of Spirit Sands, but to our knowledge, they’re not partners with Swan Lake, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs or the province, and will see no direct financial benefit from gaming revenues. And yet, as in the case of a casino on the edge of Brandon, we expect they, too, would be on the hook for some of the social negatives.
And while previous Brandon city councils, the province, First Nations and the AMC dithered about the Westman casino question, folks down in Belcourt, N.D., have built themselves a sprawling complex called the Skydancer Hotel and Casino. Located 15 minutes from the Canadian border, and about 75 minutes from Brandon, the owners of the 120,000-foot, six-storey hotel and casino recently splurged on a $28-million renovation.
Since it opened, busloads of Manitobans have been finding their way to Belcourt parking lots. A $15-million, out-of-the-way casino that lacks a hotel will not be able to compete. Even if the casino were based in Brandon, it would face competition. But as a city Brandon boasts a larger, stable population base, which is crucial to the success of such a venture.
We are forced to agree with Yale Belanger, an associate professor of native American studies at Athabasca University and the author of the book “First Nations Gaming in Canada,” who told us that “casinos in cities do the best.”
And considering the hefty management fees being exacted by Hemisphere Gaming Inc. for the operation of Spirit Sands, we can say with some certainty that the AMC has inked a poor deal for Manitoba’s First Nations communities, which this casino was supposed to benefit.
Whether a casino is eventually built in Brandon, these are not misleading comments, as Carberry’s council suggests. These are the true, if uncomfortable, facts as we understand them.