Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. sought help to develop business case for casino

The Newfoundland and Labrador government solicited outside assistance to look at the potential business case for a casino in St. John’s, according to documents obtained by CBC Investigates through access to information.

Assessment concludes St. John’s ‘a viable market,’ according to provincial government document

PC finance critic Victor Fedeli is calling on Ontario government to halt it's casino deal with Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Jessica Hill/The Associated Press)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government solicited outside assistance to look at the potential business case for a casino in St. John's.

That's according to documents obtained by CBC Investigates through access to information.

"Under direction from a former minister of finance, [name redacted] has undertaken efforts to develop a business case for a casino in St. John's," reads a provincial Department of Finance information note, dated Jan. 6, 2015.

"[Name redacted] views a casino as a progressive move for the N.L. market, and feels that a casino is a safe gaming environment when led by experienced, competent management, such has been provided by [name redacted.]"

The provincial government has the sole authority to permit a casino within its jurisdiction. There is currently a ban in place prohibiting the establishment of a casino. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)
The name of the entity that did the assessment is blacked out, and it's not clear exactly when the work took place. The former finance minister is not named either.

The current minister of finance, Ross Wiseman, was appointed to the portfolio in September 2014.

He was not available for an interview between Friday and Tuesday, but officials said he is expected to comment Wednesday afternoon.

In May 2014, Wiseman's predecessor as finance minister, Charlene Johnson, said the province was open to at least considering proposals for a casino in the province, although she stressed that public feedback would be part of any process to potentially revisit the current ban.

Before those comments, the Progressive Conservative government had repeatedly slammed the door shut on even considering the idea.

Johnson said in May 2014 that provincial officials "haven't received any formal proposal with a cost-benefit analysis or anything like that."

But the province does appear to have asked for — and gotten — more information on the topic, according to records obtained by CBC Investigates.

"Start-up costs for a casino are estimated at [amount redacted], including land, building, games and systems, as well as other costs such as training and promotion," the government documents note.

Information note on 'Project Matthew'

Significant portions of the January 2015 Department of Finance information note are blacked out, including part of the title: "[Word redacted] casino and e-gaming policy."

CBC Investigates has filed an appeal with the information commissioner's office to have those redactions reviewed.

Some information under the subheading "Project Matthew — NL Casino" has been disclosed.

According to the government information note, the primary target market would be people who live within a one-hour drive.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government asked for outside help in looking at the potential business case for a casino in St. John’s, according to documents obtained through access to information. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
"[Name redacted] believes that St. John's will support a viable market as casinos tend to attract an adult and senior market which is reflective of the local population."

The briefing paper indicated it is difficult to determine the exact revenue impact to the province.

"Casino revenues will come from a population's disposable income. Without a change to the disposable income of the population, the dollars in the economy will not change, only the distribution of those dollars. A casino will create competition for this disposable income," the document notes.

"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."

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province without a casino.

'They could run some numbers' 

Last May, then-finance minister Charlene Johnson said the province had informal contact with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation about the possibility of a casino in the province.

"Briefly, we had a discussion, and they said if the interest or the desire was here, they could run some numbers and that sort of thing," she said at the time.

It's not clear if the lottery corporation played any role in assessing the potential business case for a casino in St. John's.

Atlantic Lotto declined interview requests about casino gambling and e-gaming in Newfoundland and Labrador, calling them policy questions best directed to the province.

Casino-style online gaming

The provincial briefing note also contained information about casino-style online gaming.

Most of that information was blacked out.

The province says disclosing it would harm the business interests of a third party and reveal secret proposals or advice.

The province has rejected online gambling proposals floated by ALC in the past.

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