Manitoba tribes sue province for blocking casino relocation


manitoba-tribes-lawsuit-casino-relocationIndian tribes have sued Manitoba’s provincial government for blocking their efforts to move tribal casino operations to the Winnipeg area.

On Tuesday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) filed a statement of claim with the Court of Queen’s Bench, accusing the provincial government and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries (MLL) of blocking tribal gaming operators from the Winnipeg market, “the only market in Manitoba where casinos can generate significant revenue.”

One year ago, Manitoba’s newly elected Premier Brian Pallister unequivocally rejected plans by the operators of the Aseneskak Casino to shift their operations from tribal land near The Pas to a spot near the Assiniboia Downs racetrack just outside Winnipeg.

In response, Derek Nepinak, AMC’s then-Grand Chief, accused the government of illegally favoring partnerships with private operators such as True North Sports & Entertainment, which was allowed to open the Shark Club Gaming Centre in downtown Winnipeg in 2013, despite the AMC’s understanding that tribes had first dibs on any new gaming venues in the city.

The AMC’s lawsuit, which was joined by Sands Hills Casino Resort Limited Partnership, operator of a struggling Carberry-based tribal casino, seeks nearly C$870m (US $698m) in damages. The suit also asks the Court to (a) approve the relocation of the Sands Hills Casino to the Winnipeg region, (b) issue an injunction barring any new non-tribal casinos in Winnipeg, and (c) order the Shark Club to turn over its revenues to a First Nations-controlled trust.

Current AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who was elected this summer, told CBC News that gaming was supposed to be “a meaningful tool for [First Nations’] economic development” but the government had routinely broken its commitments to establish tribal casinos in “viable markets.”

Dumas hoped the provincial government would “step up and work with us to create a real solution” to the current dilemma. Failing that, Dumas says First Nations will “continue to seek justice for this in the courts.”

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s monopoly online gambling operation awarded the province’s largest ever slots jackpot earlier this month. Winnipeger Kamalita Ketler collected a C$1m Powerbucks jackpot on October 1, easily surpassing the province’s previous record of C$566k, which was set at a Winnipeg brick-and-mortar commercial casino in 2014.

Ketler notched the record prize on her iPad Mini while playing at the British Columbia Lottery Corporation-powered PlayNow, the Manitoba version of which was launched in January 2013. Three provinces – BC, Manitoba and Quebec – currently offer the multijurisdictional, multi-platform Powerbucks slots game.