When it comes to considering a casino, the City of Brandon is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Twice before, residents in the community have debated the merits of gaming within a framework of an urban reserve. Those plebiscites were divisive and reduced the level of discourse in the community to an uncomfortable level.
It was an empty victory however, as the results of those "No casino" votes have not been able to isolate Brandon from the social costs of gaming, nor keep a casino from our doorstep.
Not only are we a community with 311 VLTs within city limits, but the lack of progress on the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ preferred casino site of Swan Lake First Nation-owned land near Carberry has encouraged a consortium of aboriginal leaders to put forward an alternative location.
Their land in the RM of Elton at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 10 is already in the process of being designated reserve land.
The potential of a casino literally across the road from Brandon has led city council to reluctantly reopen the casino debate, albeit with a different business model.
With it being inevitable that a casino is coming to the edge of town, it’s in the best interests of our community to be at the table in any future discussions around casinos. That is the only way to ensure that our city’s interests are taken into consideration.
If accepted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Province of Manitoba, this very different approach could benefit Brandon and could also accomplish the same founding objectives of Aboriginal prosperity and economic self-sufficiency outlined in the Bostrom and Desjardins reports.
Meeting those fundamental objectives has been frustrated because of the lack of progress at Spirit Sands and the Brandon option is a way forward to break that logjam.
Provincial officials have confirmed that they remain committed to the concept of gaming to generate aboriginal economic development and that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will have considerable influence on Manitoba gaming decisions. Tribal Councils Investment Group and Brandon in no way want to encroach on AMC’s existing gaming authority and the existing licences that they are responsible for and will be asking the province to consider granting a fourth licence for the Brandon option. This is in keeping with its unique structure and business model.
Getting support for a new approach will be challenging, but if we’re going to move forward, a new approach will be necessary as the existing model has been twice rejected by the Brandon community. The Brandon option was developed by taking into consideration three key points:
• a Brandon option casino will only be built on municipally owned lands, not on reserve lands;
• funding and programming to deal with the social costs of gaming will be a priority within the business plan;
• the City of Brandon will be a senior partner at the table.
Gaming revenue is not new to the City of Brandon budget. Last year, we received almost $600,000 in VLT revenues through various provincial community contributions. Securing alternative sources of revenue is an important priority of our budgeting process going forward, ensuring that the growth of our city is not borne exclusively by taxpayers.
An equity position in a casino would be a dramatic change in the business model in Manitoba, where organizations such as Winnipeg’s MTS Centre and First Nations have been the primary targeted financial benefactors in terms of revenue-sharing models.
Of course, any business person knows that it’s important to understand revenue disbursement as distinct from revenue generation. Currently, the aboriginal casinos have third-party management contracts that have significant impact on revenue disbursement. The partnership with TCIG is the Brandon way of addressing revenue generation-disbursement inequities.
TCIG’s raison d’etre is to enter into business opportunities that generate revenue for its shareholders. It has an enviable 20-year track record of doing just that.
There will be many hurdles to jump in the coming months as we push forward with the development of the Brandon option, gaining support and building the business plan.
AMC could decide that it does not want to support a Brandon option. The province could decide that it does not want to consider other models beyond the current AMC controlled model. Brandon city council could decide that the business plan does not provide enough benefit to justify the community risk. Each one of these scenarios would cause us to re-evaluate our course of action.
Great dancers and great cities share an important characteristic — they never look at their feet. We need to look forward to where we’re going rather than at our feet and where we’ve been. We need to anticipate and plan for the future. We also need to be nimble on our feet in adapting to changing circumstances.
Decision-making is generally question answering. How will Brandon best adapt to evolving circumstances regarding casinos? How can Brandon city council ensure that the interests of our residents are protected and promoted? Will a different business model provide more tangible economic benefits to First Nations communities?
If we can get support from both the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the province that the Brandon option has merit and is worthy of a closer look, we can get the answers to these questions.
» Shari Decter Hirst is Brandon’s mayor. Her column appears monthly.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 2, 2012