Controversial Plan to Use Keno for NHL Arena Funding

News that the NHL will return for a shortened season has received general disinterest from frustrated fans, while local pubs near NHL arenas are jubilant that fans will once again return to arenas.  Canada’s seven NHL franchises provide the majority of business for these pubs, but the future of the Edmonton Oilers remains in question without secured funds for a new arena – which have yet to be secured. 

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith has proposed using keno and social gambling to help secure necessary funds, an idea she says helps secure necessary funds for the arena without raising municipal taxes in Edmonton or provincial taxes on all Albertans.  Gambling experts identify over $3 million was raised by keno across Alberta in 2012, but to fund an arena – tens of millions in extra revenues would be required to successfully assist in funding a new NHL arena. 

Smith suggests investing money in an expanded keno program could generate approximately $200 million.  She says that while most of that money would be paid out amongst the big keno winners, there would be an estimated $25 million remaining for arena funding in Edmonton – Smith wants the Calgary Flames included in a keno-funded arena deal, and the remaining $25 million would be used in Calgary.  The Oilers ownership group under Darryl Katz says there is a $100 million gap in negotiations with the City of Edmonton, which Smith says could return arena invested money over a five year period.

However, keno faces stiff gambling competition in the province of Alberta as slot machines, VLTs, and other digital games are very popular in bars and pubs.  Smith’s revenue estimations are criticized as overly generous in comparison to the rest of the gambling industry, and many of these critics believe relying on keno would still create a shortfall – inevitably forcing the government to raise taxes to bridge the gap.

Other critics, particularly social gambling awareness groups, believe using gambling to subsidize arena funding for a billionaire is the wrong message to send to Albertans.  These groups believe investments in health, education, and social community programs are more important than subsidizing arena funds.

The idea has divided much of the province, and the announced resumption of the NHL season will only create more controversy – especially if the Oilers show potential with their young lineup. 

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