The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hopes for a reset in its relationship with the Pallister government on gaming, arguing the province hasn't worked collaboratively with them in recent years.
After a two-day conference this week, AMC members directed Grand Chief Arlen Dumas to renew their focus on First Nations gaming, including strategy and revenue-sharing.
"It seems as though over time, some of the provincial representatives took liberties with that relationship and they went off and willy-nilly did things on their own without involving the First Nations. So we need to address that," Dumas said in an interview.
Dumas said some chiefs have told him their communities are stymied due to a planned provincial gaming review that's interrupted any new business negotiations with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
In last November's throne speech, the provincial government said it would undertake a review of the provincial gaming system, which it hasn't officially started yet.
"Some of our communities have long-term plans as to how they want to provide for their people and when the provincial gaming people are not working in a collaborative or in a meaningful way, then it is impacting all of our communities," Dumas said.
Last week, the provincial cabinet ordered Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries to increase the revenue share veterans’ groups receive on the VLTs they operate.
Video lottery terminals operated by Royal Canadian Legion and the Army, Navy Air Force Veterans of Canada (ANAVETS) will get a 30 per cent share, up from 25 per cent.
The adjustment takes effect Nov. 3 and will continue until after the province completes its gaming review.
Ronn Anderson, chair of the veterans’ VLT committee representing both the legion and the ANAVETS, was unaware of the decision until informed by a reporter.
“That’s great news,” he said Thursday.
Anderson said the benefit of the increase will vary from location to location, depending on the number of VLTs and how much they are played.
— Larry Kusch
The grand chief also raised the issue of VLT-revenue sharing as a point of contention among members.
Currently, most First Nations have a 90-10 revenue-sharing agreement negotiated with the province where they obtain 90 per cent of VLT revenues and the province collects 10 per cent. Dumas said some chiefs want more transparency on where the province's cash share is going and others would like to see First Nations retain all the revenue, since they operate and maintain the machines.
Dumas said he's reached out to provincial ministers to discuss the chiefs' gaming concerns and he had a brief conversation with Premier Brian Pallister at a Winnipeg Metropolitan Region luncheon Thursday. He hopes to sit down with members of government next week.
"Over the past two years, many of our nations have made numerous attempts at working collaboratively with the provincial government in regards to their agreements and there seems to be an impasse," he said. "And so the assembly will stand by our chiefs and our nations and we will pursue all options that are available."
Asked whether legal action against the provincial government was being considered, Dumas said "anything is possible."
Premier Brian Pallister said he's committed to making sure the government moves forward co-operatively with First Nations on future gaming.
"I think we need to work together and I think that's what we've been doing. I've had significant and frequent meetings with Indigenous leadership in our province — as recently as today, informally," Pallister said.
Asked about the prospect of First Nations setting up their own gaming authority to establish control over the industry, the premier said: "Well, there's more money for lawyers I guess, sadly."
Pallister said the provincial review of the gaming industry will be launched in due course.
"We have to all benefit from the way we do gaming in the province," he said. "So we'll continue to pursue that without fear or favour."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.