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Saskatchewan closing, selling all its liquor stores

The 34 government liquor stores have seen net income plunge 96 per cent since 2018, according to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, due to private competition
About 284 jobs will be affected by the closure of 34 Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority outlets. | SLGA

The Saskatchewan government is exiting retail sales of alcohol and selling off Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) permits after it closes all of its 34 locations by March 31 2023.

SLGA minister Lori Carr outlined some details on what the process will be during a press conference on October 27.

Carr confirmed that 284 full time equivalent jobs will be impacted. The actual closing dates will vary, but all stores will be closed by the end of the first quarter next year. 

Physical assets, including 19 buildings owned by SLGA, fixtures and equipment, will be sold in a separate process. The province states that SLGA will work with the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union to negotiate a workforce adjustment plan for affected employees

The indication from Carr is the first stores will close in January when the lease is due. But they will still be operating through Christmas this year.

The retail permits associated with the 34 stores will be sold to new private operators in a public online auction process beginning in early January 2023. Anyone who wishes to bid can do so, but they must still qualify to hold a commercial liquor permit. Carr said the bidding will only be on the license itself, not on the physical buildings where the liquor stores are located.

Not impacted is SLGA's Distribution Centre. SLGA will also continue to operate as wholesaler of beverage alcohol as well as regulator of liquor, gaming and cannabis.

In the legislature Thursday during Question Period, Minister Carr further explained some of the rationale for why the 34 retail stores are closing, as stated in Hansard: 

“Mr. Speaker, the 34 stores that comprise SLGA retail have seen their net income decline by 96 per cent since 2018. This is expected to continue to decline, and that SLGA retail will begin to lose money in the coming years. Currently it makes up less than one per cent of SLGA revenue, contrary to what members opposite think. Profits in ’21-22 were $3.2 million, with projections for ’22-23 at $395,000.

“Initial estimates indicate it would take significant capital spending to make SLGA retail outlets competitive again, with no guarantee that this spending would result in a return in investment. This is money that could go towards new schools, hospitals, or even highways, Mr. Speaker.”

In her scrum to reporters, Carr insisted that new jobs would be available at the private liquor stores being created.

“There will be lots of opportunities for private industry to buy those retail stores and there will be jobs for people in the industry,” said Carr.

As for why profits had declined at the existing SLGA stores, Carr believed “what has happened is people have choice and they’ve chosen where they want to buy their liquor.”

In Saskatchewan, large food retailers, such as grocery giant Loblaws, are allowed to sell liquor, and there are dozens of private liquor outlets across the province.

Carr anticipates all 34 permits will be sold. “So that means the same number of stores will be out there and I would assume you would need the same number of employees to run those stores.”

In addition to divesting the government liquor stores, there are plans for the government to split off the gaming portion from SLGA and form a new Crown corporation.

The province will be establishing Lotteries and Gaming Saskatchewan on April 1, 2023, which will consolidate management oversight for casinos, VLTs, lotteries and online gaming. 

Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation will be reconfigured as a wholly owned subsidiary, while continuing to operate Casinos Regina and Moose Jaw. Management of the VLT program will move to the new corporation as well as online gaming from SaskGaming. Lotteries will continue to be operated by SaskLotteries (SaskSport) and Western Canada Lottery Corporation but overseen by the new Crown Corporation.