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Life with pro hockey back may be a bit of a gamble

I’m sooo elated that the NHL and its players association have come to a tentative agreement, so they can get to work on a season of exciting pro hockey again. I can hardly wait to rush out and buy tickets . . . to the official Alberta Keno pro hockey lottery game.

Or not.

Being a retired person on a limited income, I might be able to afford a pair of tickets to perhaps one NHL game a year, or one oversized jersey that would look ridiculous two days after the player named on the back was traded to a team in a city that never sees snow.

Or I could spend the same dough and have two days with my wife cross-country skiing in the mountains. No contest. The mountains win.

But I still like to consider myself a fan of the Oilers, much in the same way I like to consider myself a social drinker.

You know, a personal indulgence that’s not considered unacceptable behaviour.

So I might be persuaded to attend a sports bar once a year, hoist a brew, have a burger, watch a game with friends — and put five bucks or so into a Keno game, hoping to recover my investment.

The Wildrose Party might have a winner with its idea of promoting a Keno lottery game, with the bulk of the profits from the first five years of operation going toward funding shortfalls for new arenas for both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

But a number of assumptions have to pan out, before we can be assured NHL hockey can survive in this province — and that players with multi-million-dollar contracts can have the designated benefits pension package they so desperately need.

First, the government needs to accept that the Wildrose proposal has merit.

All that’s required there is goodwill, and an insider’s agreement with the numbers.

As the proposal has been presented, rolling out the Keno game into sports bars and lottery kiosks shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive.

After that, an increase in consumer spending of $196 million on lotteries would need to be realized, and sustained for at least five years.

If you believe that NHL hockey has a long-term future in Alberta without requiring provincial tax subsidies for the infrastructure needed to host the teams (beyond what the cities themselves are willing to spend), you need to believe in all of the above.

For true fans, that shouldn’t be difficult. But for the rest of us?

Credit needs to be given in this space to Jason Gregor, TV host, play-by-play announcer and curator of the Oilersnation web site.

His work saved commentators (like me) the time needed to dig up the relevant numbers, to get a perspective on the potential of a Keno lottery for Alberta.

Check his site, and read the comments on his interview with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith; both are illuminating.

We already knew that Albertans spend way more than the national average on lotteries. Per capita, lottery spending is highest in the three prairie provinces, making gaming a major revenue source for our respective governments.

Profits on the $737 we spend on gambling per year go toward a host of non-profit societies province-wide, as well as into general government revenues. Neither pot can afford a decrease right now.

It’s ironic, but Alberta’s unique policy of dedicating gambling profits toward community non-profits rather than keeping all the money in general revenues, keeps thousands of dedicated volunteers and paid staff addicted to VLT revenues.

Without that money, fundraising would become a lot more desperate around here.

So if a Keno game were instituted and actually made the $196 million a year projected, it’s asking a lot of Alberta’s gamblers, not to let that figure be a decrease in other lottery profits. Or a whole lot more people with bad personal problems might eventually become homeless.

Here’s how the Keno money is proposed to be divided. Of total sales, $137 million is paid in prizes. Five million goes to admin (a low figure, in my estimation).

Another $5 million is divided between the Oilers and Flames foundation charities (it’s hard not to be jealous of that). And $20 million a year for five years goes to the teams to subsidize new arenas.

After five years?

Danielle Smith suggests profits might go to municipalities for recreation infrastructure. But I can’t see CFL teams, soccer teams, pro lacrosse or baseball teams failing to reasonably ask for a slice of the pie.

For true believers, anything can be made to look possible. The question is: how much are casual fans like me (and there are lots of us, I think) prepared to believe?

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor.



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