Could Keno Save the Edmonton Oilers?

Written By Janice Doughtrey

The idea of using lottery, keno, or some form of gambling to bridge an infrastructure funding gap between the province of Alberta and its NHL franchises was first suggested by Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith late last year – after reports were made public that the province could lose the Edmonton Oilers if a new arena deal is not reached.  Smith has publicly released details of the gaming proposal, which not surprisingly has divided the province.

Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz has played hardball with the city of Edmonton in attempts to secure funds for a new arena, which has left a $100 million gap in a new arrangement.  If a new arena deal is unable to be agreed upon, Edmonton risks losing the Oilers.  In an effort to bridge the funding gap, Smith proposes expanding a digital keno game – which made Alberta $3.1 million in revenue last year – in more pubs, casinos, and bingo halls to expand the revenue stream without imposing a new tax on Albertans to bridge the shortfall.

“The City of Edmonton would get a magnificent downtown facility, the Edmonton Oilers would get a new home and Alberta taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for any of it.”

The proposal and the revenue sharing agreements would need to be negotiated between the AGLC, the City of Edmonton, and the Oilers ownership group but Smith believes despite disagreements no one in the province wants to lose an NHL team.  She also proposes including Alberta’s other team the Calgary Flames in the agreement, in order to build funds for a new arena for their team as well.

However, the idea has received both support and criticism from various groups across the province.  Edmonton city councilors suggest the idea would avoid imposing higher taxes on city residents, but believes the game must expand to a revenue stream comparable to British Columbia’s – where digital keno provided the province with over $200 million in 2012.  Conversely, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Alberta Gambling Research Institute have concerns about diverting money away from social programs to fund corporate projects.

The Alberta government has indicated it is considering Smith’s proposal, but they have just scratched the surface on how to proceed.