Manitoba’s premier has flatly rejected a plan by six Manitoba First Nations to move their casino from the rural north to the provincial capital Winnipeg.
The tribal operators of the Aseneskak Casino have been trying for years to move their gaming operation from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas to a more populous region of the Canadian province, with Winnipeg their preferred destination. On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister (pictured) gave them his answer: “Absolutely no.”
Pallister, whose Progressive Conservative government took power in April after nearly 17 years of NDP rule, said Winnipeg’s market was already saturated with gambling options, including the Shark Club Gaming Centre, which opened in 2013 as a partnership between the provincial gaming monopoly and True North Sports & Entertainment.
Pallister slammed the NDP for its major expansion of gambling, saying it “hasn’t solved our social problems. In fact, it’s actually made more of them worse.”
Pallister said the NDP’s push to set up casinos on First Nations reserves was intended “to create jobs in those communities. Moving casinos out of northern communities into the city of Winnipeg isn’t going to create jobs in The Pas or Thompson or Flin Flon or anywhere else.”
The Aseneskak Casino tribes had struck a deal with the Peguis First Nation and the Manitoba Jockey club to situate the relocated casino near the Assiniboia Downs racetrack but the province had the final say. The Aseneskak have complained about the difficulties in dealing with the provincial Liquor & Gaming Authority, which acts as both regulator and rival operator.
Aseneskak CEO Suzanne Barbeau-Bracegirdle has warned that the casino – one of The Pas’ top-five employers – would have to shut down at the cost of around 140 jobs if the relocation plan was rejected. The casino had offered to help its existing workers relocate if the plan was approved.
Barbeau-Bracegirdle said the casino hadn’t turned a profit in 10 years, in part because of the major expansion of video lottery terminals (VLT) across the province. The 2016 Manitoba Gaming Market Study showed that the province had the most VLTs per capita and was the only province in Canada to increase its number of machines since 2005.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which had supported the Aseneskak relocation plan, stated in June that it hoped to have a better relationship with the Conservatives than it had with the NDP. One of the Assembly’s goals was to achieve equal footing with “private, commercial and corporate interests” in terms of having access to preferred casino sites in urban centers. So, not so much…