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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Still a good bet

“The casino has been in the works for the last number of years, it had originally been identified to go up in Brandon, but after several rounds of negotiations, the Carberry site was eventually selected.”

— AMC grand chief Derek Nepinak on CBC Manitoba

Blindsides just don’t happen on “Survivor.”

Nope, pretty much everyone associated with the City of Brandon’s quest to develop a business plan to see whether a casino would be viable in Brandon was treated like a cast-out castaway on that reality TV show yesterday, as they heard before sunrise through the media that the deal was dead.

“Like everyone else in Manitoba. I woke up this morning to that news and I’m disappointed, as we’ve been trying to work very cooperatively with AMC on the best business opportunity for a casino in western Manitoba,” Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst told CBC Radio Noon yesterday.

“The last time we had talked … everyone felt that there was enough interest and merit in the Brandon option that they wanted to pursue it further.”

But at 6:21 a.m. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs voted Brandon off the casino island with an emailed statement to media.

The statement announced that Hemisphere Gaming Inc. will develop and manage the Spirit Sands Casino at Carberry, with construction expected to start next spring.

Yes, another attempt will be made to build a casino on some scrub land off a beat-up highway literally in the middle of nowhere.

It’s been 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 2011, the highway was closed from Glenboro to Carberry for months during the spring flood, but we’re sure the casino developers have contingency plans if that happens again.

Back to the failed original Spirit Sands casino. Since that groundbreaking date, there has been no construction and lots of delays.

As you have read in the Brandon Sun, 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 government funding has been rolled back to $500,000 from $2.6 million.

We think that has had some impact on the AMC’s decision to take the quickest and easiest route to get some money flowing as soon as possible.

Problem is, if they had only worked with Brandon a little longer, the potential revenue from a casino/hotel complex inside the city could be so much more lucrative than with what sounds like will be a second-rate gambling shack that won’t even have a hotel attached at first.

Once fully operational in late 2013, the AMC predicts Spirit Sands will employ approximately 150 people. All 63 Manitoba first nations will share equally in the profits generated by the casino.

But what will happen with Brandon’s plans now?

“I’m very disappointed,” Decter Hirst said. “This was going to be a very exciting opportunity to work with a strong partnership (with the Tribal Council Investment Group) in the aboriginal community and I am really saddened that we are going to miss the opportunity to do that.”

Decter Hirst said she hopes to be able to convince the province to conduct another gaming study, as the one that ruled Westman could accommodate one small casino is likely out of date.

We agree. At the rate Westman is growing, and with the apparent lacklustre project the AMC is hinting will be seen with its Spirit Sands project, we hope the city continues to work with its partners to press for a properly designed casino/hotel/entertainment complex somewhere inside Brandon city limits.

And while the AMC was indeed quite rude in snubbing the city by not giving it a heads up about its decision to proceed with the Carberry-area project, we hope that isn’t a harbinger for future partnerships.

Decter Hirst noted she had been under the impression that further meetings with the AMC were to go ahead as planned. She noted the AMC could have had a much more profitable casino in Brandon and would have lower building costs as water, sewer and power are already available.

Unlike at the site off Highway 5 close to Spruce Woods Provincial Park, a wild bit of terrain that had its lower areas completely swamped by the flood of 2011 — the damage is still easy to see — and the higher areas features an area that’s an actual desert.

A great location for a season of “Survivor,” perhaps, but not a great one for bus tours carrying tourist looking to gamble, relax and catch a show.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 2, 2012

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“The casino has been in the works for the last number of years, it had originally been identified to go up in Brandon, but after several rounds of negotiations, the Carberry site was eventually selected.”

— AMC grand chief Derek Nepinak on CBC Manitoba

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“The casino has been in the works for the last number of years, it had originally been identified to go up in Brandon, but after several rounds of negotiations, the Carberry site was eventually selected.”

— AMC grand chief Derek Nepinak on CBC Manitoba

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