Casino delayed by new design - Friday 12th of August 2005

Construction of the Dakota Dunes Casino has halted almost two months after its upbeat sod-turning ceremony, as its backers wait for government approval of an upsized design and budget.

The lack of activity on the Whitecap Dakota Nation site means that, at best, the casino will now open between September and November 2006, assuming the NDP cabinet approves the $66-million proposal within a few weeks, said Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) CEO Edmund Bellegarde.

Any further delay might force the casino to open in mid-winter, a slow time for the industry.

"We dont have any final, approved capital budget, so its a challenge when we go to banks or our partners to borrow the project financing required," Bellegarde said. "And with the details not confirmed, it makes it difficult for us to tender contracts with unknown specifics in terms of size and capital budget.

"We still hope not to lose this construction season."

SIGA had originally targeted next June for opening.

Last months sod-turning was a jubilant event, dampened only by the absence of anyone from the NDP government.

Approval of the capital budget hinges on SIGA first agreeing on compensation for Prairieland Park to close the Emerald Casino, said Eric Cline, the minister responsible for gaming.

The agreement would also address the future of the Emeralds staff.

Cline gives the sides "weeks, not months," to agree before he imposes a settlement.

"We need to know if the parties are going to be able to reach an agreement or not or whether were going to just have to make a decision on what the compensation is and how the employees are treated," Cline said in an interview. "Ive arrived at the point where I would like to have a comprehensive decision."

Bellegarde said government intervention isnt a concern if it sets compensation to match what its own Casino Regina agreed to pay the Regina Exhibition in compensation. He said the Dakota Dunes Casino is willing to pay the same amount -- $2.6 million annually for 30 years.

"The government has to be aware of the precedent that they themselves have set in Regina and Moose Jaw," Bellegarde said. "We shouldnt be held to any higher standard than the government itself."

Prairieland president Mark Regier said hes hopeful Cline wont have to step in.

"Im more optimistic than I was even a week ago. Im hopeful we can conclude this."

Regier said he wont comment on compensation amounts until a deal is signed.

Cabinet approval of the expanded design hinges on its feasibility and whether the extra cost would limit profits, Cline said. The budget and design are currently under review by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, which will pass on a recommendation to Cline, who takes it to cabinet.

Much of the extra casino space would be devoted to unsexy, but essential, add-ons, according to Bellegarde, including a buffet dining area for patrons (since a hotel wont be built until the second phase) and a dining room for staff; $4.6 million for paved parking that was originally overlooked; an on-site staff training room; and generally more room in food and staff areas, as well as more circulation space around exits, walkways and common areas to meet national building codes.

SIGAs initial $43-million proposal, approved by cabinet last summer, was drafted with the input of chartered accountants, but not architects, cost consultants or casino design experts. Construction costs in general have also soared in the last year.

The design includes an entertainment show lounge slightly smaller than Casino Reginas 35,000-square-foot venue, but Bellegarde said SIGA had suggested that could be part of the casino in its initial application to the SLGA.

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