Fears that Casino Rama could close when its current operating agreement expires in 2011 have been allayed by comments from the new executive director of Ontario Lottery and Gaming.
At a gathering last month hosted by Mnjikaning First Nation, Kelly McDougald, OLG CEO, said the province and aboriginals will ?forge a new relationship ensuring that Casino Rama will continue to be a success.?
Since it opened in 1996, Ontario?s only First Nations casino, located on the reserve lands of the Chippewa Mnjikaning, has been the subject of conflict. When the project was announced, the provincial government said it would not seek a 20 percent win tax of gross revenues at Casino Rama so more money could go to help the First Nations. But the Conservative government of Tory Mike Harris reneged on that pledge; since 1996, Ontario has collected about $1 billion from Casino Rama.
It was tribal infighting, however, that
reportedly jeopardized the operating agreement. Since 2001, the First Nations bands have been quarreling over the split of net revenues from the casino. As the host band, Mnjikaning receives 35 percent, while the remaining 134 bands split 65 percent. In the past seven years, Mnjikaning?s disputed share has been placed in escrow pending a resolution.
Rumors circulated that the province might not renew Rama?s operating agreement if Mnjikaning and the other First Nations failed to come to an agreement.
Those rumors were later denied by Ontario Lottery and Gaming, but the province then announced that it had struck a deal with all First Nations except Mnjikaning. The Chiefs of Ontario agreed to a lump-sum payment of $201 million and nearly 2 percent of all provincial gaming revenues?not just from Casino Rama?starting in 2011. In return, they gave up all claims to future win tax revenues.
Despite lingering concerns about the future of Casino Rama, Mnjikaning Rama Chief Sharon Stinson Henry expressed confidence that the band and the province will reach an accord.
?I know we can work together to forge a new deal,? said Stinson Henry. ?I don?t foresee any obstacles.?