SAINT JOHN – The province and the city are having discussions with a private company about operating a casino in Saint John, the CEO of Develop Saint John told Common Council Tuesday night.
Steve Carson told the council about the potential project as part of the organization’s update on its ongoing activities to help fuel economic growth in the city through residential and commercial property developments.
“Most recently we’ve had the opportunity to discuss a potential casino for our community,” Carson told council in open session. “[It’s] something that we believe, and certainly our partners at Discover Saint John believe could be a really important piece of the puzzle as we move forward trade and convention, and tourism, events and experiences. We’ll be working with the province on [the possibility] in the coming months.”
In an interview with Huddle after Develop Saint John’s presentation to council, Carson said the province first approached them several months ago about the possibility of a new casino opening here. The potential operator had reached out to the provincial government first because it would have to grant approval for a casino to operate.
Carson said he can’t yet reveal the name of the company, but said it has a lot experience in the industry.
He said the company is currently doing market research, so it’s too early to provide details about the size of the facility and the types of gambling experiences and other forms of entertainment it would offer. They also haven’t settled on a location, but the company is interested in the cluster of businesses, amenities and infrastructure in the uptown that attracts visitors and tourists.
“Their interest is being driven by the convention and tourism business we have and the vibrancy of the community around that,” said Carson.
He said issues around gambling and addiction are top-of-mind concerns, but he’s confident a casino could be managed responsibly. A casino isn’t a “centrepiece” of economic development, he said, but it’s an important feature of cities like Saint John.
“While there are obviously some things we want to mitigate, most casino and gaming industries have evolved into something that’s a pretty important part of tourism and convention communities … and we are obviously one of those.
“Gaming companies are very good now [with regards to] corporate responsibility around gambling problems, [which are] more easily monitored and regulated through a very professional presence like casino operators, as opposed to some of the smaller machines in corner stores that fly under the radar.”
Mayor Don Darling said discussions are in the early stages, but he hopes Saint Johners can have an open-minded debate about the potential benefits of a casino.
“The idea should be explored, and we’ll have to engage with the public in discussions,” Darling told Huddle after the Develop Saint John presentation. “But the linkage I want to make for folks is that to move the city forward we need to grow, and in particular we need to grow the tax base. It’s a long way from a done deal in my opinion but it’s certainly a conversation we should have.”
“I hope that all the folks that want Saint John to improve and invest in things like arts and culture, and recreation, roads and other priorities will support us exploring this potential.”
Darling said he’s encouraged that Moncton’s experience with its casino has been largely positive.
“We should have a serious discussion about any other mitigating factors like social impacts,” said Darling. “I have not myself seen or heard of any major negative impacts to the City of Moncton. I hear a lot more about the positive impacts. They have excellent concerts there and they do a good job.”