Manitoba reconsiders plans for more First Nations-run Casinos
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Manitoba reconsiders plans for more First Nations-run Casinos

The Manitoba government has recently announced that it is considering plans for the establishment of more First Nations-run casinos in Manitoba, and thus the expansion of gambling in this Canadian province. 

Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew, the current premier of the province of Manitoba, is the first premier in Canadian history to occupy this role as an individual from a First Nation background

His decision to take into account the possibility of gambling expansion in the province of Manitoba is one that was also taken into consideration back in 2018. At the time, and for reasons that we will explain further down in this article, the party in power had decided against this expansion. 

For the first time since then, these plans for gambling expansion in the province are being reconsidered, thus potentially reversing a long-standing opposition that was held under previous governments. 

In a recent press conference, Kinew states that the aim of such an expansion would be to enable an economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities

The Manitoba premier has shown great willingness to participate in the discussions pertaining to this expansion, however no concrete plans regarding how this proposition will unfold have been formed thus far: 

“We don’t have a specific proposal in front of us, but what we’re saying is that we’re open to working together on economic reconciliation. And if that includes a future proposal from the Naawi-Oodena site [in Winnipeg], or other urban Indigenous economic development zones around the province, we’ll certainly consider it.” 

Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba 

Despite this willingness to establish more First Nations-run casinos in the province, Kinew showed some hesitation when it came to the proposal of opening a casino in Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba. 

With regards to the specific land-based casino that would be fully operated by First Nations, Kinew stated that he is open to a casino from anywhere, and had the following to say about this matter: 

"It's not really what we envision — it would be led by a proponent. Whether it's Treaty One [Development Corporation] or a Westman First Nation, if we're talking about that part of the province, they would have to come forward and say, 'Here's a plan,' and then we'd take it from there." 

Kinew did not rule out the possibility of establishing a casino in the capital of Winnipeg, however, during this recent press conference, he did not comment further on this possibility. 

The 2018 failed attempt to establish more First Nation-run casinos in Manitoba 

Back in 2018, the first attempt at establishing plans to increase the number of First Nations-run casinos in the province of Manitoba never came to fruition.  

The reason for this lies in the way in which the Progressive Conservative (PC) government, who was in power back in 2018, suspended the establishment of new gaming facilities, thereby halting the expansion of gambling services in the province of Manitoba. 

In addition to this, Brian Pallister, the former Manitoba premier of 2016, provided a report that ultimately came to the following conclusion: In the province of Manitoba, gambling was oversupplied, but this was especially the case for the capital city of Winnipeg. 

Taking this evaluation as their main point of consideration, the Progressive Conservative (PC) government utilized this report in order to provide a justification for their refusal to establish more First Nations-run casinos in the province.   

In particular, the PC government denied the approval for Aseneskak Casino, a First Nations-operated land-based casino located in The Pas, to be moved to the capital city of Winnipeg. 

In 2018, Pallister compounded the report that he had released back in 2016 by stating that, unless a full review had been completed, there would be no possibility of expanding any gambling services in Manitoba. In fact, he stated, any attempt to accomplish this would be prohibited

“I don’t think there are many Manitobans who believe we should hang our revenue dependency on the need for people playing VLTs or gambling. We need to have a strategy as to where we’re going, and I think it’s important to do that analysis.”  

In addition to this, the government that was elected back in 2018 brought forth another justification in order to prohibit any attempt at establishing a First Nations-run casino in Winnipeg: 

  • The gambling market in the capital city was already full of government-run land-based casinos, thus the addition of any more establishments would be unnecessary

Chief of these land-based casinos, allowed to operate in Winnipeg by the government that was elected in 2013, was Shark Club, a gambling center operated by True North Sports and Entertainment and featuring, amongst others, slot machines and table games. 

In reaction to this approval, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs had, at a later stage, filed a lawsuit against the government over the matter in question.  

In this lawsuit, filed in 2017, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs claimed that, by approving the decision to establish Shark Club in Winnipeg, whilst also refusing the proposal to establish First Nations-run casinos in the same city, ultimately ending up costing them millions of dollars in revenue. 

This allegation is one that, thus far, has not been tested in court

Those opposed to the 2018 denial of gambling expansion in Manitoba 

When the attempt to establish more First Nations-run casinos in Manitoba failed back in 2018, there were many parties who were diametrically opposed to this decision. 

Chief of these parties was Kinew’s New Democratic Party (NDP), who opposed the decision made by Pallister at the time.  

The return to government of the New Democratic Party of Manitoba in 2023 ensured that Kinew was able to change the course of this previously established prohibition. In a press conference, Kinew stated the following: 

“We took the decision that we can lift this pause while still ensuring that we’re being socially responsible with Liquor and Lotteries.” 

This statement was made following the replacement of some board members of the Crown corporation: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL). In light of this, it appears that this decision was made in a display of intent to progress the expansion of gambling in the province of Manitoba. 

In the recent press conference that Kinew attended, the Manitoba premier emphasized that it is important to take into consideration the requirement for a balance to be struck between economic drivers and social responsibility

“We need to look at that economic development side, and I think Liquor and Lotteries has shown that they are an effective generator of revenue for government.” 

Following the 2023 election of the New Democratic Party of Manitoba, and the subsequent statement made in which they proposed the lifting of the prohibition of any attempt at gambling expansion in the province, Obby Khan, the MLA of Progressive Conservative (PC), had something to add: 

Whilst never outrightly opposing the decision to expand gambling services in Manitoba, Khan has remarked on the way in which it is imperative for many more details about this proposal to be conveyed.  

In addition to this, Khan has stated that, prior to being able to formulate a stance, the Opposition requires further and comprehensive understanding of these gambling expansion plans. 

Plans for gambling expansion in the province of Manitoba 

With the inclusion of this newly elected government, there were two noteworthy efforts that, in this article, we have pinned our focus on: 

  • The lifting of the prohibition of gambling expansion in the province of Manitoba. 

  • The appointment of the new board members that make up the Crown corporation: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL). 

Both of these efforts, it is envisaged, will aid the province of Manitoba in the following ways: 

  • They will provide support for both economic reconciliation and local economic development

  • They will uphold the commitment to community service that is held by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL). 

This information was listed in a mandate letter that was issued by the former president of the local United Food and Commercial Union, Jeff Traeger. In addition to this, Traeger is the new board chair of the Crown corporation.  

In this mandate letter, it was stipulated that this proposed gambling expansion must be conducted “in a targeted fashion to include supporting economic reconciliation and local economic development.” 

Glen Simard, the Minister of Sport, Culture, Heritage, and Tourism and the individual who is responsible for the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) Corporation, made the following statement regarding how the MBLL should approach this matter: 

“[The MBLL should] work collaboratively with stakeholders to lift the pause on gaming expansion in a targeted fashion to include supporting economic reconciliation and local economic development while maintaining [the Crown corporation’s] commitment to supporting the communities they serve.” 

The Grand Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs 

Amongst the Grand Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Cathy Merrick, the Grand Chief of Manitoba, attended the press conference that was held recently, and had the following to say: 

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to sit down with them […] to be able to talk about moving forward. The majority of the population of Manitoba is in Winnipeg, so that would be an ideal place to have a First Nations-run casino.” 

In this way, it apparent that the Manitoba Chiefs have welcomed the news of this imminent change and support the proposition of establishing more First Nations-run casinos in the province of Manitoba in full. 

About the authorMelanie Cazenave
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A specialist in online casinos, she also loves proofreading. With her, it's impossible for mistakes to slip through the cracks. A true lover of letters, she binds articles and retouches them to make them as perfect as possible.

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