So the provincial NDP has finally yielded to temptation and decided to wade into the multibillion-dollar business of online gambling.
As The Canadian Press reports, the province announced on Thursday that it plans to have its own online casino, offering poker and other games, up and running by early next year.
The site will be run in conjunction with the British Columbia government, which opened its own online casino in 2010. The province predicts the online site will be a veritable cash cow, taking in $1.5 million in its first year and about $17 million per year by 2018.
And to appease those critics who say the province is enhancing its ability to profit from those addicted to gambling, Lotteries Minister Steve Ashton said five per cent of net revenues will be used to fund gambling addiction programs — up from the normal two per cent take from traditional gambling venues.
Speaking of those traditional gambling venues, we note with some interest that the Manitoba government last month increased the loan guarantee for the much-delayed Spirit Sands Casino project by $250,000 to a total of up to $1 million.
As the Sun reported on Saturday, the increased guarantee was meant to help the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs complete its efforts to secure financing for the casino.
A provincial spokesperson told the Sun that the province continues to work with the AMC chiefs to develop the Spirit Sands Casino as a “tool of economic development and tourism opportunities.”
While $250,000 is a drop in the proverbial bucket — it’s a $41-million project after all — we can’t help but wonder whether the province’s bid to bolster the project is a sign that Spirit Sands is sinking. We’re not the only ones who think there’s a problem here.
Manitoba Progressive Conservative lotteries and gaming critic Cliff Graydon notes that the project has been faced with a “severe inability to secure the necessary financing.”
Consider this: The AMC and the province held an official sod-turning for the construction of the facility in September 2010. Media were told by then-AMC Grand Chief Ron Evans that the Spirit Sands project was nearing the final stages as its backers had a business plan and financing in place.
There was also a partnership in place with Red Lake Gaming Enterprises, a casino operating company based in Minnesota, that was to receive a management and developmental fee for its services and expertise during the construction phase of the facility.
And yet, nearly two years on, the AMC is still attempting to secure financing. This project has government backing, and now a million-dollar loan guarantee. You’d think that those with the purse strings would jump at the chance to make a profit, if they saw the opportunity.
It’s possible, of course, that the updated loan guarantee is part of a negotiated agreement with companies looking to finance the project. If that’s the case, more power to them. Nevertheless, there is simply no way that Spirit Sands will open this year — it was scheduled to open in late 2012.
If the government is really serious about getting Spirit Sands built, it will be asking the same question we are — is this the right location?
Of course it isn’t, but we digress.
But as this is the fourth attempt for the AMC to build a third aboriginal-run casino in Manitoba, a project that has now taken a decade to realize — and it’s still not realized — surely the NDP must be throwing up its hands in exasperation.
And so the attraction to online gambling.
In building an online gambling site, there’s little to no infrastructure to create, no municipal plebiscites and noxious “yes or no” campaigns to suffer through, no haggling over revenue distribution, no First Nation negotiations, and in comparison to the standard casino construction model, very little cash to pony up.
Guaranteed, the government’s online gaming site will be up and running before Spirit Sands.