Brandonites’ long flirtation with a casino may have received some new life as the provincial announcement of a Manitoba Lotteries-controlled, True North "gaming centre" hit the news this week.
Now this case of the casino question is not a new one for Brandon, it has been tossed around for some time with a couple of plebiscites ruling against the issue.
It has been looked at as being everything from an economic attractor to a social enabler and caused both sides to set up camp on the issue, standing their respective ground.
Even yours truly has commented on this in a previous column and personally I must say I support looking further into the opportunity a gaming centre or casino would offer as it can be the driver for other growth wherever it sets up shop.
The game had long been played between the provincial government and the City of Brandon on the casino, aboriginal investment, urban reserves, political groups and a plethora of other entities that were a cause for concern, whether the belief was rooted in truth or not. It has, as I stated in that aforementioned column muddied the waters on the issue.
The further murky it becomes with this week’s announcement of the new "gaming centre" option to be housed within the Cityplace complex in Winnipeg, run by Manitoba Lotteries with proceeds returning to the minds behind the MTS Centre and True North Sports and Entertainment.
The news actually leaked close to the time Premier Greg Selinger was touring the community with Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell doling out funding for a couple projects and checking in on others.
It seems the whole timing may have caught the province off-guard as well as members from True North in Winnipeg as they were not prepared to comment on the project at the time and were planning an announcement at a "later date."
In any case, it satisfies the province’s promise to True North to have a share of gambling revenue as part of the whole deal that brought Winnipeg the MTS Centre, as well as eventually the Jets organization, once again.
Provincial staffers and politicians were quick to defend that this "gaming centre" creates a different entity from the traditional casino or aboriginal-run component, basing the logic on floor space or the number of tables or machines. These same ideas of ownership and space have been knocked around by our city for more than a decade and the province now has the chance to right the wrong in this case if they open the discussion with Brandon.
Whether they would like to admit it or not, they have painted themselves into a corner with the issue. To argue wording or semantics on the nature of the "gaming centre" at this time will fall on deaf ears in the Brandon pro-casino camp, something those keenly aware with how the game is played were quick to jump on.
With that being said, as much as some would like to throw open the doors to the new "gaming centre" in downtown or wherever it may end up, we are still a few miles apart.
One thing, this new hybrid form lends itself to being an economic driver and allows the city to pursue research and data collection should the province greenlight it as an option.
If the province is not willing or able to look at this as an option, it may be time for a different discussion to take place as to why it seems what is good for Winnipeg ought not to be good for Brandon.
The third discussion, one that would be far more colourful is if, at the end of a construction season, significant work has not commenced on the Spirit Sands project outside of Carberry.
The game is ever changing as does it seem are the rules. I realize the plebiscites have stated in the past that our city’s comfort level with an aboriginal-run casino was not there, but the "gaming centre" seems to be a different entity, or so we have been told or led to believe.
I have to commend the mayor for playing this card to the province, it’s great to see the province be challenged on this opportunity and if and how Brandon would benefit.
In a week where the Gambler himself Kenny Rogers strolled through town it seems our game is on the line, the chips are down but it looks like we are not ready to fold ’em, but ante up.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.