According to a report on CTV National News, the owners of the Great Blue Heron Casino, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN), north of Toronto, believe they got a raw deal from the government with the launch of iGaming in Ontario and new land-based operations in the area. The Great Blue Heron Casino is situated in Port Perry and it opened in 1997.
Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto opened recently and the billion-dollar property along with new venues in Ajax and Pickering, not to mention the advent of commercial “free-market” online casino gaming in the Ontarian province, have the First Nations operator more than a little nervous about the future of its operations that provide much-needed revenues for the tribe. Their Chief, Kelly LaRocca. States it a bit more boldly and believes the government has broken promises and shorted the community on agreed-upon operating terms.
Owned Operated and Managed by Three Different Entities
The MSIFN owns the casino which is managed by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and operated by Great Canadian Entertainment. An agreement by all three parties entered into in 2016, and spelling out the MSIFN’s expectations does not rhyme with the reality on the ground today, according to the Chief.
“I’ve had major concerns around each casino opening and expansion,” LaRocca said. “It’s an existential threat for our economic driver and the community here. The community feels they were misled by the government.”
One bone of contention seems to be live entertainment that Great Canadian has booked at all properties in the area, except presumably Great Blue Heron, with Live Nation even though there is a new entertainment center slated for the older casino. Chief LaRocca said nobody has informed her of an opening date for the 500-seat venue, but other reports indicate an opening in the fall of this year.
The Chief said, “I’m not seeing a guarantee that the list of entertainers will be shared amongst the [Great Canadian Entertainment]
The casino has seen other recent capital improvements including an expanded gaming area with new slot machines and table games as well as a 100-key hotel that opened a free short years ago.
However, the Chief must look out for the welfare of the Nation that relies on revenue from the property it owns – in fact, it’s so important that all of the parties will be involved in a mediation that will take place to see if all the terms of the 2016 agreement are being met. The mediation could also result in more gaming seats being opened at Great Blue Heron to help it meet the targets promised. The casino transitoined from a “charity casino” to a commercial casino in 2016 with the agreement.
According to the Chief, the casino is“the economic foundation and lifeblood of <the>community. It has brought us clean drinking water, enhanced health-care services and education,” she said.
No Delusions about Mediation
LaRocca explained that the community has clarity in their expectations of what mediation can bring,
“You know, if parties come willingly to the table and open to all matters of possibility, then a mediation works well. If parties come to the table closed and with preconceived notions of how things ought to go, with no room for movement, then really, it’s not meaningful open discussion. So we’re just trying to be cautious with what our expectations are and willing to go the distance should we need to go to mediation.”
The Chief says the Pickering casino violates a proximity agreement in the 2016 document and says they were not consulted on that before the Pickering venue was approved and opened.
“We’d like the agreements that we entered into in 2016 to be honored. What that means is to have a protected territory that is honored by the OLG.
“The way they handled Pickering and Ajax… we will be looking for them to acknowledge it and for some kind of compensation for that.”
She’s also concerned about the effect of iGaming on the market, fearing the opportunity for people to simply go online to play casino games is costing them money.
“We’re interested in discussing iGaming and the rollout of that and the impact on gaming in our community, in our facility, and on other land-based facilities,” LaRocca said.
“I’d be mighty upset at the onset of iGaming, especially after having poured in hundreds of millions of dollars into various land-based gaming facilities, only to turn around and have their market share scuttled. But I suspect that the service providers have been compensated for that.”
The 2016 agreements states in part: “The Province and the First Nation intend that the Great Blue Heron continue to operate and be commercially viable.”
However, the Chief sees the proliferation of newer and bigger casinos as an existential threat to the Great Blue Heron.
“The Ford government have broken their word to our community. It’s hurting a lot of Indigenous people and we are going to have to take issue and fight against the cannibalization of gaming.”
Source: Facing commercial competition, Great Blue Heron tribal casino owners look for better deal with Ontario government, CDC Gaming Reports, July 5, 2023