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Alberta’s Wildrose party proposes lottery to pay for new NHL hockey arenas

Daryl Katz talks during a news conference at Rexall Arena in Edmonton on Wednesday July 2, 2008.

Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press

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 brand 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 said about $20-million a year would flow to each city, not directly to the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames organizations.

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"In order to keep pace with other world-leading cities, core municipal infrastructure such as this must be built," Ms. Smith said Thursday.

"The question that has stumped politicians and business leaders over the last five years is: 'How do we do this?'" Ms. Smith said the Keno lottery would help deal with the $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.

Ms. Smith acknowledged the Keno proposal won't pay off without the support of the National Hockey League teams, the two cities and the Alberta government.

She said the Wildrose party has sent its proposal to the Alberta government, the teams and the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary for their consideration.

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner called the Wildrose proposal an interesting idea, but suggested it couldn't raise enough money to be effective.

Mr. Horner said 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 he called cultural and recreational infrastructure projects.

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"The problem with Keno is that it doesn't raise as much money as would be required to fund that kind of infrastructure," he said.

Mr. Horner said the government is considering a lottery that would allow people to bet on teams such as the Edmonton 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 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.

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Ms. Smith said Wildrose estimates an NHL-branded Keno game in Alberta would generate almost $200-million per 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 immediately available for comment.

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