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Casino rejection miffs Brandon mayor

Decter Hirst questions province's gaming policy

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BRANDON -- A gaming centre such as the one announced for Winnipeg's MTS Centre is not in the cards for Brandon, the provincial government says.

"They continue to say that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is in control of the existing (gaming) licences, that the concept of a gaming centre is unique to the MTS Centre because of its role in downtown revitalization," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said Wednesday. "They said no."

Winnipeg's new facility, a 5,000-square-foot gaming centre with 140 slot machines, two poker tables and four blackjack tables, will be operated by Manitoba Lotteries but owned by True North Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Winnipeg Jets.

Brandon must now consider other options for redevelopment of the soon-to-be-demolished Brandon Inn and Brandon Real Estate Building properties along Princess Avenue.

Sally Housser, spokeswoman for Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for gaming, said Wednesday the province has "no plans for changes to the current policy."

That didn't didn't sit well with Decter Hirst, who questioned why the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the province are refusing to consider Brandon's potential as a gaming centre, especially in light of ongoing problems with the AMC's Spirit Sands casino development.

"Brandon continues to be a great business opportunity for gaming in the province of Manitoba, a better opportunity than anywhere else right now," the mayor said. "If they're serious about economic development, if they're frankly serious about downtown revitalization, if they're serious about employment and job-creation opportunities, they have to at some point look in a different direction than the Spirit Sands casino at Carberry.

"How patient are they on how long it's going to take to get that project off the ground?"

She said the province should revisit its 2007 First Nations gaming-market study that suggested western Manitoba could sustain only one medium-size casino.

Cliff Cullen, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives' newly appointed gaming critic, agreed.

"It might be relevant to have another look at those studies to see what the possibility could be for gaming in the future," Cullen said, adding he hoped the AMC and province would be "up front" with the public about potential delays in the Spirit Sands development.

The province and AMCàhave refused to comment on the beleaguered Spirit Sands development, scheduled to be up and running by the end of this year.

The AMC and its partners in Spirit Sands have yet to hand over site plans to Manitoba Hydro. Before power lines can be installed on the site, Hydro requires an indeterminate time to plan the lines, depending on projected power needs.

Meanwhile, Pasadena, Calif.-based general contractor C.W. Driver, previously chosen to build the casino, confirmed this week that as of late last year, it was no longer involved with the scaled-down construction.

In an email Wednesday, AMC spokeswoman Sheila North Wilson said her organization would not comment or give an update on the construction timeline.

"There is no information to share with you at this time," she wrote.

The province provided no details Wednesday on how long it would wait for the Spirit Sands development to move forward, whether time limits for the AMC to use its three provincial casino licences were discussed and whether the government's policy on aboriginal casino development had been subject to review.

Asked whether his party favoured the current NDP policy on aboriginal gaming in Manitoba, Cullen declined to comment.

"I'm not going to comment on our policy," he said. "I'd better not. It's not my place to do that."

Cullen is the MLA for Spruce Woods, a region that stands to benefit from the Spirit Sands casino should it be built on the Swan Lake reserve along Highway 5 as planned.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2013 A4

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