Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Odds long for 63 betting on casino

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The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is building a casino a half hour east of Brandon, hoping to parlay the success of a gaming house at Brokenhead reserve -- also about a half hour out of Winnipeg -- into economic spinoffs for the 63 First Nation bands. To date, only a handful of bands in Manitoba have seen any kind of monetary return on their gaming investments.

South Beach, built by seven bands at Brokenhead in 2005, makes money, especially for American developer and operator, Hemisphere Gaming Inc., which signed an agreement giving it 47 per cent of earnings before taxes. This reduced the profits shared by the owners, more so what's left over for the 56 other bands in Manitoba.

But South Beach's strategic location -- along the path to premier cottage country -- has helped the seven owner-bands cash in on decent returns. A CBC investigation last year found that since 2005, after paying Hemisphere $43 million in management and other costs, the seven bands have shared $17 million. In contrast, the Aseneskak casino, built in 2002 at northern Manitoba's Opaskwayak reserve, took years to make a profit. It has less than a third of South Beach's 600 slot machines.

Initially, the AMC says, Spirit Sands at Carberry will have 450 slots and is expected to employ 150 people. All 63 bands will be owners; all will share in the profits. That could mean that they will see more than they've got out of South Beach -- CBC reported that non-owner bands got as little as $13,128 in 2010.

But profits are derived from revenues, which are driven by traffic. Spirit Sands is to be built on reserve land of the Swan Lake First Nation, just off the Trans-Canada Highway east of Brandon. The proximity to a major urban centre on a heavily travelled road will give Spirit Sands a leg up and the AMC believes it has negotiated a better revenue-sharing agreement with Hemisphere.

The fractured ownership of Spirit Sands -- many chiefs have their hands in this pot -- will bring many, potentially competing voices to the board table. Some may not be as patient with a casino's limited ability to generate the vaunted spinoffs -- jobs, career training, cash -- the provincial government has used to justify native casinos.

The reality is that the jobs will fall to those closest to Carberry. Other bands may get a little dividend, but this foray into the gaming will not change the daily lives of their people or the communities that continue to struggle economically.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A14

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