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Brandon set to roll dice on native casino

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BRANDON -- A new aboriginal casino for Brandon could be in the cards.

Last night, Brandon city council voted in favour of conducting a city-wide plebiscite on the issue March 12.

The move came after Manitoba Gaming Minister Dave Chomiak said a proposed $35-million aboriginal casino in downtown Brandon will not require the creation of an urban reserve in the city.

The reversal of government policy improves the chances Brandon residents will approve the plan.

"It got so complicated," Chomiak said Monday of the previous requirement for aboriginal casinos to be located on reserve land. "You add another layer of negotiations and another layer of discussion, which makes it difficult."

The minister was in town to outline the conditions for bringing a casino to the city, accompanied by Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches, who was acting on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The plan put forward by the AMC and the province would see the creation of a $35- to 40-million First Nations-owned and operated casino, preferably downtown. It would sport 300 slot machines and gaming tables, and have a cash flow of nearly $4 million, and a payroll of $7 to $8 million.

Similar in size and scope to the South Beach Casino north of Winnipeg, the non-smoking facility would create between 250 and 300 jobs, many of them for First Nation employees.

Putting a casino in Brandon's core area has been under discussion since it emerged as a top suggestion at April's Downtown Summit.

Chomiak said the new gaming facility would bolster Brandon's image as a destination city. He said the location would be a decision left to Brandon council and city residents.

In a 2002 plebiscite, a majority of voters rejected the idea of building a casino in Brandon.

The ballot asked residents two questions, one of which involved the establishment of an "urban reserve" in the city, and it is widely believed the outcome of that vote was tainted by racism and a lack of clarity.

The new proposal would share casino revenue not only with the city, but with all 62 member First Nations in the AMC.

"The city of Brandon and Brandon council have a second chance, an opportunity to make things right," Meeches told reporters yesterday. "One of the challenges we're facing here in Brandon, as First Nations is economic -- poverty, (and a) growing First Nation population in the city. We really need to find ways to facilitate economic growth.

"Although it's not the answer to meet all the needs of First Nations people, it will be an important starting point."

Brandon councilors had been waiting for the province to outline its criteria before deciding whether to hold a second plebiscite.

The province's about-face on the urban reserve requirement should make the idea of a casino in Brandon more palatable to city residents, said Brandon Mayor Dave Burgess.

If Brandonites vote in favour of a new casino, the province's timeline for the project would see construction begin some time in 2008.

mgoerzen@brandsun.com

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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