Despite efforts, Newfoundland and Labrador no closer to having casino

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only casino-less Canadian province. Key figures at the Sonco Group, a gaming company, have been working extensively to appeal to the government to change that. However, despite claims of increasing real estate value and bringing tourism, Sonco is currently facing an uphill battle to get a casino in the province.

The company, founded in 1995, speaks of various gains to be had by the government if a casino is opened. However, no matter how good their claims might sound, Sonco’s plans are affected by one major factor: a ban on casinos in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2014, there was some speculation of the ban being reviewed, when former finance minister Charlene Johnson was in office. Since then, there has been no indication of any further plans to rescind the ban, and firm assertions to keep the ban in place, from the current finance minister, Ross Wiseman.

Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Alberta since 2015, hosted Sonco for a meeting about opening a casino. Sonco CEO, Michael Novac, sent a 10-page report to Ball. In it, he spoke of Sonco’s history of success in opening casinos around Canada. Also cited was their work with other governments; in 2008, the New Brunswick government specifically chose Sonco to develop Casino New Brunswick, which opened in 2010. Major areas like Alberta and Ontario are also host to Sonco casinos.

Sonco president, Anthony Novac, says the company outlined problems the government might with the introduction of a casino to the city. However, in the document sent to the Premier, they highlight the various advantages that would entice the government to take on the project. These benefits include financial gain to the local government, full-time employment opportunities for hundreds, increasing the value of real estate and bringing tourists to Newfoundland and Labrador.

In their report, Sonco estimates the amount spent on construction would range between $30 and $75 million. Through money made by the casino, the government would stand to make between $20 and $40 million annually. 300-400 people would have full-time employment opportunities at the casino. Finally, the report states a casino built by Sonco would bring in a great deal of revenue through tourism and boost the value of housing in the area, as properties

While Sonco acknowledges “It would be irresponsible to suggest that casinos are an easy path to riches for the government,” Sonco cites their past history of success in opening casinos as a point of persuasion, as well as explaining how they can be beneficial to a community. As the report explains, casinos “can be good corporate citizens.”

It remains to be seen what happens with Sonco and their efforts to bring a casino to Newfoundland and Labrador, and whether or not the Novacs can appeal to a government which has successfully resisted casinos for so long now. The report might cite all kinds of enticing figures and statistics, the government and people of Newfoundland and Alberta have been used to not having casinos in their province since the ban was first instated in 2003.

Furthermore, finance minister Wiseman appears steadfast about keeping the current policy in place. When interviewed last year regarding the matter, Wiseman said reviewing the ban was “not on [their] radar screen.”

“It’s not something I’m pursuing as a minister, and it’s not something that government is pursuing a discussion around,” Wiseman said in 2015.

Additionally, Anthony Novac acknowledges a lack of further discussions.

“We have had no subsequent contact with any representative of the government in this regard and we have no further comment at this time,” Novac said.

Written by: Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson has been reporting for Blog.ca for more than 8 years. He studied journalism at UGC and has published two books on how journalism influences the world.

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