No dice: Premier 'not interested' in pursuing N.L. casino policy after meeting with gaming company
Access-to-information request reveals Sonco met with Dwight Ball about unsolicited pitch
A gaming company met with Premier Dwight Ball earlier this year to outline the possible benefits of setting up a casino in Newfoundland and Labrador.
But the premier's office says it's not prepared to roll the dice on the concept just yet.
There has been no follow-up to the meeting and currently this government is not interested in pursuing a policy surrounding casinos in this province.- Statement from the premier's office
"Earlier this year, the premier met with Sonco Group surrounding the potential for a casino in the province," the premier's office said in an email to CBC News.
"At that time the group presented an unsolicited report to the premier's office titled, Thoughts on a Newfoundland and Labrador Casino. Since then, there has been no follow-up to the meeting and currently this government is not interested in pursuing a policy surrounding casinos in this province."
Report sent in February
Michael Novac, president and CEO of Sonco Group, sent that unsolicited report to Ball on Feb. 12.
"Our company has been involved in the gaming industry for over 20 years and has developed and operates casinos in various jurisdictions in Canada," Novac wrote at the time.
"We look forward to discussing this opportunity with you and your advisors."
CBC News obtained the 10-page Sonco pitch to the premier through access to information.
We look forward to discussing this opportunity with you and your advisors.- Feb. 12 letter from Michael Novac to Premier Ball
The company declined interview requests.
"We acknowledge that Sonco submitted an unsolicited document outlining some of the issues a government may consider if considering casino gaming regulation," Anthony Novac, president of Sonco Gaming Inc., wrote in an email to CBC News.
"We have had no subsequent contact with any representative of the government in this regard and we have no further comment at this time."
In 2008, the New Brunswick government picked the company to develop, build, finance and operate the first casino in that province. Casino New Brunswick opened in Moncton in 2010. Sonco sold it to Great Canadian Gaming in 2015.
Other Sonco projects include First Nations casinos in Alberta and Ontario.
'Benefits far outweigh the costs'
The Sonco document sent to Ball highlights the benefits of opening a casino.
"There's a reason that governments across North America have looked to the development of casinos," it notes.
"Generally speaking, the research suggests that the economic and social benefits far outweigh the costs of problem gaming."
Sonco also provided information on various options available, should the government decide to explore the concept.
According to the Sonco discussion paper, there would be a number of economic benefits.
- Construction spending of between $30 million to $75 million "depending on provincial requirements"
- Profits/tax revenues to the government. "We believe a casino in St. John's could yield $20 million to $40 million per year in cash flow"
- The hiring of an estimated 300 to 400 full-time employees
- Other potential boosts to commercial real estate values and tourism
"It would be irresponsible to suggest that casinos are an easy path to riches for the government," the Sonco submission concludes.
"They come with certain social costs that need to be properly managed. But when properly sized and structured to the needs and principles of the government and the citizens, they can be good corporate citizens."
Sonco also touts its past experience, and notes its Atlantic Canadian roots.
"Sonco would be happy to discuss in more detail to the potential of a casino project in Newfoundland and Labrador."
History suggests deal isn't in the cards
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has had a long-standing policy prohibiting casinos in the province.
In 2014, under the previous Tory administration, then-finance minister Charlene Johnson opened the door a crack to, at least, considering the idea.
In early 2015, CBC News obtained provincial government briefing notes indicating that a former finance minister had solicited outside assistance to look at the potential business case for a casino in St. John's.
But Johnson's successor as finance minister, Ross Wiseman, shot down the notion.
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Wiseman wouldn't say which of his predecessors ordered the review, or when and why it was done.
The Tories were turfed from office in the November 2015 general election by the Dwight Ball-led Liberals.
Past proposals to establish a casino in the province have been rejected.
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Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in the country without a casino.