The British Columbia government is keeping its promise to Indigenous communities to the tune of $74 million.
A 25-year reconciliation deal signed in 2017 guaranteed the BC Lottery Corporation would pay 7% of its revenues to Indigenous communities.
But that quickly made a detour.
Since the COVID-19 era began, casino revenues have plummeted. In fact, in 2020, they dropped by as much as 80%.
BC has ensured a one-time $74 million grant to make up for the shortfall.
“Through this grant, we are keeping our promise to support First Nations in delivering on the priorities and services they have identified, such as new housing, community youth centres, wildfire protection and important language programs,” said Murray Rankin, Indigenous relations minister on April 21.
7% shares amount to $123 million over three years
Rankin said the funding may be needed now more than ever.
According to him, recent flooding and forest fires have been particularly difficult on Indigenous communities.
But more consistent money could also be on the way.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, casinos and lotteries are beginning to fill back up with patrons. Even with the disastrous COVID-19 period, from 2019 to 2021, the seven-per-cent share still amounted to $123 million.
Fund helps Alberta’s Indigenous communities
The First Nations Development Fund grant program has propelled the province’s recovery plan in Alberta.
The grant’s funds come from (a portion) of revenues generated from government-owned slot machines in First Nations casinos.
It is exclusively available to First Nations Band Councils in Alberta.
“In 2021 – 21, FNDF proceeds, excluding administration expense, was over $60million,” said Alberta’s finance minister Travis Toews via email to PlayCanada.
“This fund supported 27 economic, 87 social and 189 community development initiatives in First Nations across the province.”
Minister Toews also noted Alberta being the only jurisdiction in the country allowing charities to participate in casino events.
According to Toews, the province has one of the most generous funding arrangements in the country.
AB: Province’s gaming funding framework leader in Canada
While B.C. may claim to have netted its First Nations communities $123 million from 2019 to 2021, Alberta wants the public to look deeper.
Government officials tell PlayCanada Alberta’s revenue-sharing framework historically exceeds BC’s total dollars and as a percentage of lotteries.
For instance, between the fiscal years of 2017/18 – 2019/2020, First Nations in Alberta garnered an average of $177 million annually.
In comparison, BC First Nations raked in $96million in funding from gaming revenues during the same period.
Manitoba government saves local business owners approximately $1.34 million
In Manitoba, such large sums of cash weren’t the case.
But a plan was still in motion nonetheless to provide relief.
A Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries spokesperson tells PlayCanada that MLL credited six months’ worth of video lottery terminal licensing fees to its site holders in late March 2022.
Many of those impacted included commercial, veteran and First Nations operations facing significant financial losses due to COVID-19.
Estimates say the VLT credits benefitted more than 450 VLT site holders, saving local business owners roughly $1.34 million.
MBLL waves licensing fee during COVID-19
For context, Manitoba’s Liquor Gaming and Cannabis Authority charges an annual $425 licensing fee for every VLT and EGM.
That fee helps cover costs associated with regulatory VLT sites and casino inspections.
Afterwards, the MBLL then collects a portion of the money and redistributes it to the LGCA.
“Prior to this initiative, Manitoba & Liquor & Lotteries had previously absorbed almost $2.5 million in VLT licensing fees since March 2020 for the period when the public health orders prevented siteholders [sic] from operating their VLTs,” said an MBLL spokesperson, via email.
Canadian gaming and Indigenous relations remain tense
While it is great to see all operators receiving relief, the Indigenous funding comes under a microscope. Relations between Indigenous communities and the Canadian gaming sector have been exceptionally rocky.
Much of that stems from the exclusion of Indigenous governments in Bill C-218.
Critics argue the decision will push Indigenous Peoples out of Canada’s booming online gaming expansion.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke and Six Nations of the Grand River have since responded with the Mutual Cooperation Agreement on Gaming.
The partnership takes matters into its own hands and helps to ensure Indigenous gaming rights moving forward.
On a larger scale, Canada found itself at the centre of international outrage in 2021. More than 10,000 unmarked graves surfaced at former residential school sites.
More discoveries are the expectation.
Ktunaxa Nation helps work out revenue sharing terms
In fact, the B.C. relief agreement revisited that dark history.
The Ktunaxa Nation was heavily involved in working out the details of the revenue-sharing agreement. Before being converted into a thriving golf resort and casino, its Kootenay territory was formerly a residential school.
PlayCanada reached out to the Ontario government for word on their relief efforts. While an official did say a statement was forthcoming, it had not arrived by publication.
We will update the story when – and if – it is received.