Keno Plan to Fund NHL Arenas Met With Opposition in Alberta

Written By Janice Doughtrey

The proposal from Alberta’s Wildrose Party to use keno for NHL arena funding has been met with heavy opposition from citizens and organizations across the province.  The Wildrose say there is a precedent for their plan, citing a similar deal struck between the BCLC and the Vancouver Canucks to use hockey-branded scratchcard games – but opponents say the plan will take money away from important services and reduce charitable donations.

The Wildrose plan is a clever way to fund the private sector without imposing a direct tax increase upon Albertans.  The proposal would expand the number of keno stations from the current 88 locales, and install gaming stations in over 1,000 sports bars and pubs across the province.  Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith says keno provided Alberta with over $3 million last year, and projects revenues of over $200 million if the game is offered in an increased number of venues – with at least $50 million used to fund new arenas for the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

However, Albertans are overwhelmingly against the idea of using taxpayer money to subsidize private business.  While people recognize the money won’t be made through a traditional tax, the proposal is built upon encouraging citizens to use their money to pay for private business deals.

The Wildrose claims a similar program in BC has successfully generated millions for the province and the Vancouver Canucks, but critics are quick to point out there is a difference.  The BC arrangement was made after the Canucks agreed to pay the BCLC to label its brand name upon the scratch game, while the Wildrose plan will simply donate money directly to the Oilers and the Flames.

Organizations like Volunteer Alberta, which represents a number of the province’s non-profit groups, argue that as more people are encouraged to gamble it reduces money that would be set aside for charitable donations.  Roseanne Tollenaar is the Interim Executive Director of Volunteer Alberta, and says their groups rely on donations from regular Albertans.

“Our biggest concern is that an idea or a proposal such as this would divert dollars from the charitable sector.”

Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government hasn’t endorsed the Wildrose proposal, but it also hasn’t rejected the idea – suggesting this digital card could be on the table in the future.