EDMONTON – Alberta’s Wildrose party has come up with a lottery scheme that it hopes will skate around the politics of funding new NHL hockey arenas in Edmonton and Calgary.
The idea is to use the Oilers and Flames brands and expand a digital lottery game called Keno into 1,000 bars and pubs across the province. Much of the proceeds would help pay for the new facilities.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says about $20 million a year would flow to each city, not directly to the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames organizations.
“In order to keep pace with other world-leading cities, core municipal infrastructure such as this must be built,” Smith said Thursday.
“The question that has stumped politicians and business leaders over the last five years is: ‘How do we do this?'”
Smith said the Keno lottery would help address a $100-million funding shortfall facing the problem-plagued Edmonton arena proposal without using tax dollars.
She said the plan recognizes how important the arenas are to each city’s economy.
Smith acknowledged the Keno proposal wouldn’t pay off without the support of the National Hockey League teams, the two cities and the Alberta government.
The Wildrose party has sent its proposal to the government, the teams and the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary for consideration.
Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner called the Wildrose proposal an interesting idea, but suggested it couldn’t raise enough money to be effective.
Premier Alison Redford’s government is looking at another proposal to pool lottery money that could be used by all municipalities to help fund what Horner called cultural and recreational infrastructure projects.
“The problem with Keno is that it doesn’t raise as much money as would be required to fund that kind of infrastructure.”
Horner said the government is considering a lottery that would allow people to bet on teams such as the Oilers and put the proceeds in a separate fund for building projects, but he cautioned that work on the idea is still very preliminary.
Last month, Edmonton city council voted to resume talks with Oilers billionaire owner Daryl Katz over a $478-million proposal for a downtown hockey arena to replace the 38-year-old Rexall Place.
The negotiations, which began five years ago, had stalled over money issues including the funding shortfall.
The city and the Alberta government have been adamantly opposed to using tax dollars to fill the gap.
Calgary’s Saddledome arena is 29 years old.
Smith said the Wildrose estimates an NHL-branded Keno game in Alberta would generate almost $200 million a year.
Much of the money would be paid out to winners. Another $9 million would go to charities through the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.
“These projects are too important to our major cities not to explore every option,” she said. “We believe this could be the solution that fills the funding gap while respecting taxpayers at the same time.”
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were not available for comment.
The Wildrose proposal was not welcomed by a member of city council in Medicine Hat. The community has hockey arena problems of its own.
Ald. Graham Kelly said the city needs to build a 6,500-seat facility to replace its 40-year-old arena. The estimated cost is $61.4 million.
“I don’t understand why people in Medicine Hat should help fund arenas for the Flames and Oilers,”Kelly told the Medicine Hat News.
“It makes sense to me that if this benefits Calgary and Edmonton, the gambling funds would come from Calgary and Edmonton.”