Scugog Island First Nation, Province In Mediation Over Pickering Casino

Written By Jose Colorado on July 4, 2022
Scugog FN ON gov in mediation over ontario casinos. Colourful Totem Pole crafted by Jody Paudash of Hiawatha First Nation inside the Riverview Park Zoo

Mediation is the next step in a longstanding dispute between the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and the Ontario government.

The disagreement centres around the government opening a casino close to the MSIFN-owned Great Blue Heron Casino (near Port Perry, Ontario).

According to the Nation, a previous agreement required the government to consult with MSIFN before moving forward with the new Ontario casino. It also limits the number of gaming halls in the Durham region.

MSIFN seeks relief due to “agreement violations, bad faith negotiations and failures to provide consultation related to gaming.”

MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca, via a statement, said mediation is a step in the right direction.

“Since meeting with senior government officials three years ago, we have welcomed the opportunity to settle our concerns with the province. We see a glimmer of hope now that they have agreed to mediation.”

Ontario’s newest casino in Pickering opens 50km from Blue Heron

The establishment in question is the Pickering Casino Resort. It’s roughly 50 kilometres from GBH.

The Pickering Casino Resort officially opened its doors on July 26, 2021 –  and immediately received backlash.

On that date, MSIFN condemned the launch saying the establishment was operating ‘in spite of previous agreements which limited the number of gaming facilities in the Durham Region.’

Chief LaRocca: New Ontario casinos will cannibalize the market

Originally, MSIFN ran GHC in conjunction with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

But in 2016, MSIFN agreed to let the province convert the casino to commercial property for a share of revenues.

That was where things began to go astray.

In 2017 the province announced a pair of Canadian companies had signed a 22-year deal to operate and redevelop some gaming establishments in Toronto. Among them were GBH, Ajax Downs race track and Casino Woodbine.

At the time, MSIFN was fearful of modernization plans. Much of the Nation’s economic success depends on the GBH. According to them, revamping and adding casinos would saturate the market and “cannibalize” local revenues, impacting its Nation.

Ford government axes previous Ontario casino deal, enraging MSIFN

Those concerns appeared to be heard – to some degree under the former Liberal provincial government.

But when Premier Doug Ford took office in June 2018, he axed the agreement. The MSIFN was far from pleased.

“Without any manner of notice to MSIFN, the Ford government passed regulations to allow the Pickering Casino Resort to operate in breach of the government’s commitments with MSIFN to not operate any new casino in the GTA within close proximity (to) MSIFN’s Great Blue Heron Casino.”

Chief LaRocca added:

“The Pickering casino’s opening is yet another glaring example of Premier Ford’s willingness to tread over signing agreements for political ends. This government has rewritten the Ontario gaming map to suit its own agenda.”

Relations between Gov, First Nations, gaming industry rocky at best

For its part, OLG has remained silent on the situation. It will be interesting to see if the corporate lottery does respond.

Consider First Nations and the Canadian gaming industry’s relationship has been particularly spotty lately. Much of that is because First Nations were excluded from Bill C-218 – legislation allowing provinces to regulate single-game wagers.

Critics argued the decision would push Indigenous Peoples out of the gaming expansion. This exclusion would further entrench the material disadvantages many Nations face.

Despite that, and to the dismay of many, Ontario’s sports betting market launched on April 4.

Since then, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke and Six Nations of the Grand River have responded with the Mutual Cooperation Agreement on Gaming.

Its mandate is to protect Indigenous jurisdiction and rights in the gaming industry “by any means possible.”

Photo by Lester Balajadia, Shutterstock
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Jose Colorado

Jose Colorado is a British Columbia-based writer. He lives in Burnaby and loves sports, anime, writing, business and the occasional walk on the beach.

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