CGB: Do First Nations believe the Province in which you operate has given you a level playing field to develop your gaming operations vis a vis the Crown Corporations you compete with?
Barker: We are nowhere close to any level playing field as it relates to existing conditions that are enjoyed by non-First Nation entities. Until we have the same infrastructure services, such as paved roads, better quality of education, improved percentage of economic and employment development, then I can gladly say we are on a level playing field.
Cramer: The provincial casinos have long been established in Manitoba well before First Nations casinos have been allowed to get off the ground. Thus, First Nations are playing catch-up in the casino business. Catch-up is a slow process but significant headway is being made. Under the NDP government of Premier Doer, and particularly with Ministers Chomiak, Swan and the late Oscar Lathlin, First Nations have finally been allowed to create a new casino off reserve in an appropriate market area, based on sound business principles. First Nations hopes this casino policy/practice of using sound business principles will continue into the future as the relationship strengthens between First Nations, particularly the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and the provincial government.
[Cramer was previously with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. He wishes to stress that his answers are solely his opinion].
Morin: We believe [we have been given a level playing field] after waiting for so long while the other casinos were operating. We were finally given that chance. I sit on the legal entity that represents the nation’s ownership with our partners on gaming. We’ve been very fortunate to be situated in a demographic and geographical location that allows us to capitalize on the market. We’ve lived up to every promise we made to the province as far as our commitment to maintaining the top priority regulation and following all the rules and regulations of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.
CGB: How do First Nation gaming entities view their ongoing business operations within the Canadian gaming market and what are the strategic plans to grow their market, both nationally and internationally?
Barker: We have entered the gaming market to be one of the new business entities in Canada. Our goal and commitment is to offer our hospitality and services to our clientele’s satisfaction and conduct business to standards. We have recently opened our hotel and now have the ability to market nationally as well as across the border to attract visitors to our casino.
Morin: We’re doing very well in the market here in Alberta. We officially opened October 26, 2006 and it was 15 years before that when we were negotiating for the casino. There were a number of issues why it took so long. The province wasn’t quite certain what native gaming was going to entail. It took a long time to negotiate an agreement with the province and the First Nations of Alberta. And when that finally happened, it took a few more years to finalize the actual facility we were building.
We believe we are a destination casino and we are bringing in a number of visitors from outside the Edmonton region. We bring in a number of individuals who book their conferences at the Marriott hotel and banquet facilities adjacent to our casino. From there, they come and participate in the gaming activities we have or some of the entertainment shows. Recently we had Jay Leno, Wayne Newton, Billy Idol, The Guess Who, and comedian Wayne Brady.
CGB: What are the First Nation aspirations in relation to "conduct and manage authorities" within the current regulatory environment and their wishes going forward in relation to sovereign authorities on First Nation land?
Barker: Unfortunately, even though we maintain that we have sovereignty and jurisdiction rights, we must abide by the conduct and management agreements we have in place. We must concentrate on the business end of our operation. Our goal is to promote the economic growth of our home First Nation communities leading to the improvement of existing conditions and quality of life.
Cramer: Over the past few years, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has been negotiating and studying the potential benefits of a First Nation Conduct and Management Authority in Manitoba for First Nation gaming. Once the third First Nation casino is up and running in Manitoba, it is projected by some that Manitoba First Nations gaming revenues will be large enough to warrant a First Nation Gaming Conduct and Management Authority. Thus, it is still a few years away from being a viable option.
Morin: I’d rather leave that for the elected leadership to answer.
[CGB wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Eric Luke with this article.]
By Lisa Kopochinski