The provincial opposition is weighing into the ongoing downtown arena debate, with a suggestion meant to help fill the $100 million funding gap in the project.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith held a press conference Thursday, and pitched her party’s idea to help fund sports arena projects – including the proposed downtown arena.

The party said the province should look at the possibility of using revenue generated from a KENO lottery game.

Smith said the games could be rebranded, and remarketed by the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames, with money going to their respective arena projects.

She said the gaping funding gap for Edmonton’s proposed downtown arena could be raised over a few years, and avoid the use of taxpayer dollars for the project.

According to the opposition, the digital gaming program raised more than $3.1 million last year in Alberta, where it can be found in 88 bingo halls, casinos and gaming rooms.

The party said the games generated nearly $235 million in revenue in British Columbia in the same year – where it can be found in about 4,000 locations that include sports bars and pubs.

“If applied here in Alberta on the same scale, we believe that KENO can generate the missing $100 million for the Edmonton arena project, and that it can do so within five years,” Smith said.

Tonya Mawson is from B.C., but she now lives in the Edmonton-area, and she’s noticed the vast difference in the popularity of KENO in both provinces.

“Pretty much every pub in B.C. has KENO,” Mawson said, at the Blackjacks Roadhouse in Nisku Thursday. “Here, not so much.”

KENO is at the Blackjacks Roadhouse in Nisku, and Mawson said it’s not the most popular game.

“Here you get maybe once, twice a day someone playing KENO and most of the people that are palying KENO are from B.C.,” Mawson said.

“We think that difference is the fact that British Columbia has done a better job of marketing the 5-minute KENO game through its different establishments,” Smith said at the press conference.

The Wildrose plan requires that the game be rebranded for NHL hockey, and installed in 1,000 sports bars and pubs, as well as 2,200 lottery outlets.

The party said if the game was expanded, it would then generate $196 million per year in revenue – broken down in the following table:

Payout to winners

$137 million

AGLC administration

$5 million

Payout to hosting locations

$5 million

Proceeds available for use

$49 million


$196 million

The party said $40 million of the $49 million in available proceeds would be divided between the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary for their arena projects – and the rest would go to charity through the AGLC’s lottery fund, and the Oilers and Flames respective foundations.

While the opposition leader admitted the proposal would also need cooperation between the AGLC, the province’s two largest cities and their NHL teams to be successful, she said it could be a good option.

Provincial Finance Minister Doug Horner has already said the idea of using a sports lottery is being discussed as part of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, however, he said the problem with KENO is it could take away from Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) revenues.

A city councillor said the idea is one of a few possible solutions available to the province.

“This might be a solution,” Councillor Kim Krushell said. “I think the province has lots of opportunities to look at different options, whether it’s the KENO bingo lottery systems, or single game betting, or various other options.”

The debate surrounding the proposed downtown arena had an eventful 2012 – with City Councillors voting to walk away negotiations with the Katz Group on Oct. 17.

That decision came after city officials and the Oilers owner struck a deal in principle less than a year before that.

However, before 2012 ended, the city decided to restart negotiations with the company, with the help of a mediator.

The Katz Group has been invited to return to meet with City Council on Jan. 23, when city administrators are expected to present options for the arena to council.

Smith said her party hasn’t spoken to representatives from either NHL team in Alberta, but they will eventually contact them to see if they would be interested.

With files from Susan Amerongen