The Assembly of Treaty Chiefs in Alberta have demanded a reassessment of the province’s First Nations gaming policy – a charitable model which, introduced in 2001, provides Alberta’s First Nations to develop casino facilities on reserve and therefore support economic, social and community development projects.
The chiefs have voted to review the gaming funds after it became clear the First Nations policy resources were funding the province’s own lottery fund initiatives with almost a third of slot machine revenue ($76 million each year) going to the Lottery Fund.
At the moment, the province takes 30% of First Nations casino slot revenue into its $1.4 billion Alberta Lottery Fund, which is then divided out to different government departments. With the First National revenue doing nothing but increase since Alberta’s first reserve casino opened five years ago – it’s now even more important to the chiefs that they have the policy reviewed.
In a report by the Vancouver Sun, Treaty 8 Grand Chief Richard Kappo, of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta, said: “We want to go back and re-examine the process and how it’s done.”
After conducting a report into the policy in Spring this year – a native studies professor is supporting the chief’s decision and has criticised the Alberta government by saying its tactics are “neo-colonial”. Professor Yale Belanger of the University of Lethbridge, composed the report commissioned by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and found that First Nations casinos have channelled 89.3 times more money to the Alberta Lottery Fund (ALF) than First Nations in the past ten years.
It was these findings which lead him to question why the Alberta government would take almost a third of slot revenue when the policy it crafted was originally intended to help First Nations people. He said: “Basically they (the Alberta government) are getting $76 million a year all for the exercise of saying to First Nations, ‘Go invest your money, hopefully the casino works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t hurt us. If you do very well, we’re going to take 30 per cent from you.’ That strikes a very paternalistic attitude it’s frustrating to see in this day and age.”
The Vancouver Sun report also states that “under the First Nations gaming policy, 40% from the slots goes to a First Nations development fund crafted specifically for reserve gaming proceeds. It’s then divided so the five reserves that host casinos can access 30% of the cash for community projects.”
The minister in charge of the Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations portfolio in which the findings were presented in April said the government is “well aware” of the recommendations contained in Belanger’s report, but has no plans for a formal review. According to reports, discussions between the tribe and the government are ongoing.
Do you think it’s likely they will see a review? And even if they do, will any changes be made to the policy? We guess time will tell, but the tribe does have legitimate legal rights and in this case, gambling is one of them.