Manitoba welcomed home their beloved Winnipeg Jets during the last NHL season, but the team has caused recent controversy by launching a government sponsored gambling venue in the city. The gaming centre has riled First Nations tribes, who argue the Winnipeg venue violates an agreement they had with the government. The government insists the gaming centre is not a casino, and won’t affect First Nations gaming business.
When it was announced the Jets would return home to Winnipeg, the agreement included a contract for owners True North Sports & Entertainment to establish a gaming centre next to the NHL arena. The original deal allowed dozens of VLTs in the gaming centre, but expanded to include slots, poker, and blackjack tables to help the Jets generate extra revenue. The agreement ensures construction will begin this spring, and once the venue is completed the government expects the team will make $4 million annually from the games.
However, the expanded operations have angered the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations Chiefs, which argues the Jets gaming venue is a casino and violates an agreement they had with the province. In 2007 the Manitoba government agreed that Winnipeg was unsuitable for a casino, and Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says the government has dismissed First Nations rights.
“They’ve been elusive. They’ve been a little bit underhanded in terms of how they’re planning to build new casinos here and they owe us some answers.”
Nepinak says Stats Canada defines a casino as a venue with electronic gaming machines along with table games – which the Chiefs claim is exactly how to define the Winnipeg gaming centre. However, the government insists the venue is a gaming centre instead of a casino, and will support the continued presence of the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba. The province lost their prized NHL team once before due to diminishing revenues, and the government says Manitobans are determined not to let that happen again.
The province’s Minister of Gaming Dave Chomiak says the government will prevent official casinos from setting up shop in Winnipeg, and has donated $20 million in provincially funded gaming revenues to First Nations tribes. However, Chomiak has agreed to meet with Nepinak to defuse further controversy about the Jets gaming centre.