Pickering Casino Resort Violates Deal Made With Province Says Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation

Written By Robyn McNeil on July 29, 2021 - Last Updated on June 30, 2022
Close upof a hand resting near the buttons on a lot machine in a casino

With Monday’s opening of a mega-casino in Pickering, the Ontario government may have violated an agreement with the Scugog Island First Nation.

In 2017, Ontario’s former government signed a deal with the Nation to limit casinos in Durham. Still, Pickering Casino Resort welcomed its first guests earlier this week.

According to a July 26 statement, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is troubled by the opening of the Canada casino.

The Nation “is alarmed by the opening of a mega-casino in Pickering.”

Foremost is proximity to the Great Blue Heron Casino (GBH) and Casino Ajax, despite the previous agreements.

How it started

First opened in 1997, the Scugog Island gambling hall sits on reserve lands east of Port Perry

Initially, MSIFN ran in partnership with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). In this arrangement, the Scugog First Nation oversaw table games, and OLG managed slots. Then, in 2016, MSIFN agreed to let the province convert the casino to commercial property for a share of revenues. 

A year later, the province signed a 22-year operation deal with the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Brookfield Business Partners. The agreement allowed the companies to operate and redevelop the GBH, Ajax Downs, and Casino Woodbine in Toronto.

At the time, the Scugog Island Nation questioned the changes; fearful added casinos would “cannibalize” local revenues. 

Widely thought an example of good First Nation governance, much of MSIFN’s success depends on the success of the GBH. This success has allowed the First Nation to provide jobs and millions in charitable donations at home and throughout the region.

A new facility in Ajax or Pickering and a new monster development at Woodbine were surely a cause for worry.

“It has been an ongoing concern,” said Chief Kelly LaRocca. “We hope it’s not as detrimental as anticipated.”

How it’s going

In its July 26 press release, MSIFN claims Conservative Premier Doug Ford trashed the earlier agreements after being elected in 2018.

“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,” said the statement.

The casinos are nearly 50 kilometres apart.

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

With the statement’s closing lines, the MSIFN chief said this: 

“Pickering mega-casino project would not have been possible without the use of special regulatory orders from the province. The Ford government should respect and honour its signed agreements with Indigenous peoples.”

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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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