Manitoba First Nations appear a step closer to gaining a casino in Winnipeg

By The Canadian Press

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew said Wednesday he is open to considering a First Nations-run casino in Winnipeg, reversing long-standing opposition to the idea under previous governments.

“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,” Kinew told reporters.

“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.”

First Nations groups were rebuffed more than a decade ago from setting up a casino in the provincial capital, which is home to more than half of Manitoba’s population. The NDP government of the day said the market was already full with two government-run casinos in the city.

In 2013, the NDP government allowed Shark Club, a gambling centre with slot machines, table games, and more, operated by True North Sports and Entertainment, to open in downtown Winnipeg. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs later filed a lawsuit over the matter.

In 2018, the Progressive Conservative government announced a pause on any new gambling facilities.

Kinew’s NDP government, elected Oct. 3, lifted that pause earlier this week in a mandate letter to Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries. The letter said gambling expansion is to be done “in a targeted fashion to include supporting economic reconciliation and local economic development.”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs welcomed the change Wednesday.

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to sit down with them to be able to talk about moving forward,” Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said.

“The majority of the population of Manitoba is in Winnipeg, so that would be an ideal place to have a First Nations-run casino.”

Naawi-Oodena is a 64-hectare piece of land in Winnipeg that was formerly part of a military base. Seven Treaty 1 First Nations took over ownership of the site in 2019 and are in the process of building a large urban reserve that is to include commercial, residential, educational, and health facilities.

Kinew said he’s open to proposals for a casino from anywhere.

“It’s not really about what we envision. It would be led by a proponent,” he said.

“Whether it’s Treaty 1 or a (western Manitoba) First Nation – if we’re talking about that part of the province – they would have to come forward and say ‘all right here is a plan’ and then we’d take it from there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2023.

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