First Nation Believes Expanded Casino At Woodbine Could Threaten Its Funding

Written By C.J. Pierre on July 3, 2023
Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto

The Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto just celebrated its grand opening. Many are excited about the launch of the largest casino in Canada. But, a First Nation community in Ontario has not been shy about voicing its frustration over the new entertainment venue.

The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, located north of Toronto, believes it has been dealt an unfair hand that could threaten its funding. There are concerns some of the Nation’s business could be in jeopardy if the newest Ontario casino has enormous success.

First Nation believes Ontario government broke a revenue-sharing deal

The MSIFN owns the Great Blue Heron Casino. Tribe leaders are upset over the launch of the new Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto. The Nation claims the launch will endanger their indigenous community and tribal casino activities.

The new Canada casino at Woodbine Racetrack is the largest of its kind in the country. The gaming floor features 145 table games and 4,800 slot machines. There are also a variety of amenities, such as ten restaurants. In the near future, the resort will open a 400-room hotel and a 5,000-seat Live Nation concert venue to increase its appeal to guests.

The MSIFN and the Ontario government agreed to a casino revenue-sharing agreement in 2016. According to the MSIFN, they entered into agreements with the government and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to ensure the Great Blue Heron Casino would be operated comparatively to other government casinos in the greater Toronto area. However, the opening of three new casinos has resulted in claims that the government breached the deal.

MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca said the expansion of casino resorts around Ontario, particularly the new mega-casino, jeopardizes Great Blue Heron Casino’s operations. She also said the launch endangers the indigenous population that relies on casino revenue. LaRocca called these large casinos “an existential threat.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario government does not believe it has broken the deal. The OLG doubled down on its commitment to ongoing conversations about the development of the Great Canadian Casino Resort with its partners, including indigenous communities.

Great Canadian’s partnership with Live Nation is upsetting The First Nation

Recently, the tribe has expressed concerns about the partnership between Great Canadian Entertainment and Live Nation Canada. The deal allows for the significant promotion of the new Woodbine casino. However, the MSIFN believes this partnership will cannibalize business at the Great Blue Heron Casino, negatively impacting the tribe’s ability to provide services to its members.

The Nation is also upset that it was not included in the decision-making process and was only briefed on the agreement shortly before its announcement. The tribe said the new partnership was another decision without regard or care for Ontario’s Indigenous partners and communities.

Chief LaRocca said the MSIFN heavily relies on funds generated from the Great Blue Heron Casino to provide essential services to its residents, including safe and clean drinking water.

MSIFN is set to enter mediation with Ontario. However, LaRocca said she is ready to pursue legal action against the government if her community isn’t happy with the outcome.

Yet, Great Canadian is MSIFN’s partner at Great Blue Heron

Chuck Keeling is the executive vice president of stakeholder engagement, community and social responsibility for Great Canadian Entertainment. Keeling recently appeared on the Gaming News Canada podcast hosted by Steve McAllister. Keeling said it’s important to note that Great Canadian operates the Great Blue Heron Casino and Hotel from which the MSIFN benefits.

“We appreciate and respect [Chief LaRocca’s] concerns, but we want to underscore that, because it is a property that we operate, its success, its viability, is also in our best interests,” Keeling said.

“Moreover, we have invested tens of millions of dollars building the hotel that is now there that we opened in the middle of COVID. We’ve expanded and renovated the gaming floor at Great Blue Heron. It is one of four locations of our 12 in the province where we have opened a sportsbook. And we’re in the midst of developing its own entertainment venue that we are targeting to open in the early fall.

“So, we have a very strong commitment to the operation at Great Blue Heron and our several hundred team members there and the First Nations. We’re backing that up with investments in the tens of millions of dollars.”

Photo by Great Canadian Entertainment
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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Canada. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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