New Brunswick: 4 Proposals for Casino

Fredericton, New Brunswick (AP) — The New Brunswick government has received proposals from four players willing to build and operate the province’s first casino, but none will get to show their cards publicly until a winner is declared around the end of May.

Finance Minister Victor Boudreau said Thursday that five committees have been formed to review the proposals and determine which one is best. Elected members of government won’t get to see any details until cabinet is presented with the top choice.

„There’s one team that looks at the financial aspect of things, there’s one that looks at what other developments the projects bring forward, and one will look at what expertise the groups have in the gaming business,“ Boudreau told reporters after making the announcement in the legislature.

„By the end of May we should have something, and at that point we’ll be able to identify and provide more details about where exactly these proposals are located and which one will be the successful bidder.“

The province received the proposals months after voters in its neighboring state, Maine, rejected a proposal for a racino in eastern Maine. Earlier this year, state election officials said a referendum can be held on a separate proposal for a casino in western Maine’s Oxford county.

Some of the partners included in the proposals are Century Resorts International, Marriott Hotel International, Navegante Group Inc., and ADI Group Inc.

According to the request for proposals in Fredericton, the inclusion of ancillary services such as harness racing, hotel, performance theater, restaurants or recreation facilities will weigh heavily in the assessment process. It will be allowed to have up to 800 slot machines.

Boudreau said the chosen project must be open by the end of 2010. The casino would be built and operated by the private sector, but the Liberal government expects to collect about CAD 25 million a year in revenues.

That’s overly optimistic, according to a professor of political studies at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Peter McKenna, who has just finished writing a book on the gaming industry in Atlantic Canada, said he doubts a New Brunswick casino will make that kind of money, even if it is located in the greater Moncton area.

„It’s going to have to rely solely on the local population of New Brunswick,“ he said. „You’re not going to get people traveling from different parts of Canada, or even in Atlantic Canada, to come to New Brunswick to gamble. There are too many other facilities.“

Bill Rutsey, president of the Canadian Gaming Association, disagreed. He said the government and the four proponents have done their own studies and wouldn’t have gotten this far if they weren’t confident of success.

Rutsey wasn’t privy to details of the four proposals but said he’s confident from the names of the partners that at least three could develop excellent properties.

„I expect you’ll have a very nice gaming and entertainment facility. … Obviously there will be a casino floor. There will be hotels. There will be additional forms of entertainment and perhaps convention and meeting facilities,“ he said.

McKenna said he didn’t see any names among the partners with experience in the harness racing industry.

„It looks like the harness racing folks may have been hung out to dry here,“ he said.

Last November, when the government released its new gaming policy, supporters of harness racing said the future of their industry depended on having a harness racing component in the winning bid.