Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province increases stake in delayed Spirit Sands Casino plan

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The Manitoba government has quietly upped its stake in the Spirit Sands Casino to help start construction on the delayed project.

A cabinet document says the Selinger government last month increased its loan guarantee for the new casino to $1 million from $750,000. It will be administered by the Manitoba Development Corporation, the financial arm of the province for economic development, and secures a $1 million loan Spirit Sands Casino Resort Inc. has obtained from an unnamed third-party lender.

The increased guarantee comes as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs looks to secure more financial support for the $40-million project, the Brandon Sun reported last week. The casino, approved by the province in 2009, was originally targeted to open later this year.

Cliff Graydon, Manitoba Progressive Conservative lotteries and gaming critic, said he questions whether the project has ever been viable.

"It should be open today and it's not," Graydon said Monday. "If it had a good business plan, and economic conditions were good, it should be going already."

Graydon said the province's support of the project, a fraction of its projected cost, also sends a message that it's on shaky ground.

"I have to question if this is a good investment," Graydon said.

A spokesman from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was unavailable.

Plans for the casino and resort, to be built near Spruce Woods Provincial Park, include a gaming floor with about 500 slot machines, table games, a 100-room hotel, two restaurants and a convention and entertainment facility. It will be located on Swan Lake First Nation next to Highway 5, about 16 kilometres south of the Trans-Canada Highway, near the towns of Carberry and Glenboro.

It will be the third First Nation-run casino in Manitoba, after the South Beach Casino and Resort south of Grand Beach and the Aseneskak Casino near The Pas, with profits to be divided among the province's 64 aboriginal bands. A conservative estimate is they'll get $60,000 per year initially and more as the casino expands.

Future plans by Swan Lake to capitalize on the project include a gas bar, a gift shop, a winter resort that caters to snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, an RV park, a golf course and luxury cabins near the casino.

It's anticipated between 200 and 300 jobs will be created for aboriginal people and others living in the area. A 2007 study suggested the region can support a small casino with annual revenues of about $25 million.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 B3

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