New Atlantic Casino Venue

By Ben Hamill - October 12 2015
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The finance minister of Labrador and Newfoundland has confirmed that the provincial government is considering proposals for building a casino in the region. Observers expressed surprised, since the ruling Progressive Conservative government has, until now, rejected the introduction of a casino in the area. But the previous Finance Minister, Charlene Johnson confirmed the proposal. She said that, based on the successes of casinos in other provinces, including the opportunity to draw tourism and income, the Newfoundland-Labrador government would be giving another look at the prospect of an Atlantic Region casino venue. Ross Wiseman, present Finance Minister, has not spoken publically about the project. But Johnson discussed the proposal before she left office in May 2014, saying "I think it's fair to review any proposal that comes in, whether it be for a casino or what have you." Reactions among the provinces' residents are mixed. Some support the idea, based on a desire for easy casino access and successful experiences in other provinces. Doubters, however, are worried about bringing in organized crime and problem gamblers. When all is said and done however, it's clear that the economic benefits of bringing in a casino outweigh the disadvantages. Neither then-finance minister Johnson not today's finance minister Ross have indicated whether there's a majority in the provincial parliament to support the introduction of a casino. Both individuals, however, expressed willingness to examine proposals. "I think we have an obligation if somebody puts that level of work and detail into a formal proposal, I think it's only fair to review that. Our current policy is no casinos, but we'd have to give it a fair look" Johnson said in 2014.

Proposal

At present the Newfoundland/Labrador province is the only Canadian province that forbids land-based casino activity. The finance ministry hasn't yet indicated from whom the proposal for a Atlantic casino are coming or how far along the process has moved. In 2014 Johnson described one proponent in particular as being particularly active in pitching the idea. That proposal involves creating a "racino" ​—a horse-racing track that's combined with casino-style slot machines, similar to such venues that have opened in Ontario and British Columbia. The preliminary proposal didn't involve the subject of blackjack or table games. Tories officials have said that, although current policy prohibits the establishment of a casino in Newfoundland and Labrador, government officials would be open to hearing ideas presented.

Disadvantages

When asked to explain why Labrador/Newfoundland has not, until now, allowed brick-and-mortar casino venues, Johnson supported her government's decision. But, she noted, things change and people's views of this type of activity change as well, making it imperative that the government be prepared to shift as necessary. Changing policy would involve input from the public, with public hearings, after which the cabinet would make the final decision.

Past History

Some of the major objections to creating a casino in Newfoundland and Labrador concern the quality of life that local residents appreciate and expect. Much of the region is rural and a casino could disrupt the environment and atmosphere of the quiet regions. Until now, the Progressive Conservative government has refused to even consider the possibility of land-based casino gambling in the province. The Tories, who took power more than a decade ago, have been fairly united in their opposition to the idea from the beginning -- Danny Williams, premier in 2004 and leader of the Tories, said "To my knowledge there was a proposal of sorts ... as to whether there was any interest in a casino in the province, To my knowledge, that has been just flatly rejected." The idea wasn't raised again until 2010 when the Battery Hotel was sold. The Battery's owners suggested turning the property into a casino but then-finance minister Tom Marshall wasn't even interested in considering the idea, saying "our policy doesn't permit casinos in the province, there's been no change in that policy" Marshall also indicated that he saw no reason to reconsider his opposition. Again, in 2012, an idea was floated for a public-private partnership to develop a casino, with the location left undisclosed. However, officials noted that the indications were that the casino would not attract many tourists and most patrons would be locals — a situation that could lead to problem gambling in the region. The report also stated that expected revenues would be detracted from other provincial revenues — perhaps from the provincial lottery — making the venture economically unfeasible. .

Project Matthew

The current proposal is being referred to as "Project Matthew." The proposed owners recognize that the primary target market would be people who live within a one-hour drive of the casino, so using a casino to increase tourism is not feasible. However, the investors believe that the region, specifically the town of St. Johns, can support a viable market. A briefing paper, yet to be released indicates that the exact revenue impact to the province has not been determined. The document notes that "Casino revenues will come from a population's disposable income…" Also, in addressing the impact of a casino on the province's revenues, the document states that "…it is not unreasonable to assume that the presence of a casino will cannibalize some revenues received by the province through VLTs. It will also likely impact other venues or events that are supported by disposable income, such as movie theatres, bars, concerts, sports games and restaurants."  

Atlantic Lottery Corporation

Atlantic Lottery Corporation may be poised to take over operations of the casino. Many members of Labrador/Newfoundland parliament who do support a casino — or, at least, are open to the idea — would like to see the ALC take over the running of the casino. ALC has not confirmed or denied these rumors.

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