Manitoba premier says province will reconsider gambling expansion

Premier Kinew wants to involve First Nations in gaming more

For the first time since 2018, the Manitoba government is considering the expansion of gambling in the province. Wab Kinew, the first provincial premier in Canadian history from a First Nation background, is keen to use gambling as part of a broader strategy for economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

During a press conference, Kinew expressed openness to establishing more First-Nations-run casinos in the province. However, the premier maintains a cautious stance on the prospect of opening such a facility in Winnipeg.

Kinew highlighted the absence of a concrete plan for new casinos but emphasized the government’s willingness to engage in discussions. “Whether it’s Treaty One [Development Corporation] or a Westman First Nation, if we’re talking about that part of the province, they would have to come forward and say, ‘Here’s a plan,’ and then we’d take it from there,” the premier said.

Manitoba’s gambling expansion has been halted since 2018 when the Progressive Conservative (PC) government, then in power, suspended new gaming facilities. In 2016, former premier Brian Pallister produced a report concluding that gambling was oversupplied in the city of Winnipeg and across the entire province of Manitoba. The PC government used this as justification for denying a First Nations-operated casino in The Pas, Aseneskak Casino, approval to move its operations to Winnipeg.

Pallister followed this with an announcement in his 2018 throne speech, saying that the province would prohibit further expansion of gambling until a review has been completed.

“I don’t think there are many Manitobans who believe we should hang our revenue dependency on the need for people playing VLTs or gambling,” Pallister said on the decision. “We need to have a strategy as to where we’re going, and I think it’s important to do that analysis.”

Kinew’s New Democratic Party (NDP) was opposed to the decision at the time and has used its recent return to government to change course. “We took the decision that we can lift this pause while still ensuring that we’re being socially responsible with Liquor and Lotteries,” Kinew said during the press conference.

On Tuesday, the newly-elected Manitoba Government replaced board members of the Crown corporation, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL), in what appears to be a statement of intent to progress gambling.

The lifting of the pause on gambling and the appointment of a new board for the MBLL is envisaged to support both economic reconciliation and local economic development while upholding Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries’ commitment to community service. This approach is detailed in a mandate letter issued to Jeff Traeger, former president of the local United Food and Commercial Union, the new board chair of the Crown corporation.

“[The MLL should] work collaboratively with stakeholders to lift the pause on gaming expansion in a targeted fashion to include supporting economic reconciliation and local economic development while maintaining (the Crown corporation’s) commitment to supporting the communities they serve,” wrote Glen Simard, Minister of Sport, Culture, Heritage and Tourism, responsible for MBLL.

While not outrightly opposing the expansion of gambling in the province, Progressive Conservative MLA Obby Khan has called for more details on the proposed expansion, noting the need for a comprehensive understanding before the Opposition can formulate a stance.

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