First Nations gaming centre raises concerns

There is concern growing in the Miramichi area over the Metepenagiag First Nation's plan to build a new gaming centre.

There is concern growing in the Miramichi area over the Metepenagiag First Nation's plan to build a new gaming centre.

The Metepenagiag First Nation, which was formerly known as Red Bank, has won the right to build a Coasters gaming facility containing up to 25 video-lottery terminals, sports betting and electronic poker in Miramichi.

Rev. Ron Ecker, who works as an addictions counsellor in Miramichi and a pastor at the River of Life Assembly Church, said he's concerned about the prospect of the gaming centre, which is being pitched in the area as a mini-casino, may soon open up.

"If we allow a casino to come in, there will be that much more counselling necessary and it will add to the workload and caseload of social workers and government officials and others," Ecker said.

Ecker said counselling services are already stretched to the limit without the addition of the gaming facility.

Courtney Pringle, a spokesperson at the Atlantic Lottery Corp, said it's important to note that the Metepenagiag facility will not be a full casino.

"Since we've launched those category one [gaming] sites we've rebranded them as Coasters and it's a step in the evolution of the gaming model in the province of New Brunswick," Pringle said.

N.B. casino opening in May

New Brunswick is close to seeing the doors open on its first casino in Moncton, which is expected to open early in May.

The $90-million 128-room hotel, casino and convention centre complex is being built by Sonco Gaming New Brunswick Ltd. The facility will include 600 slot machines, 20 table games and eight poker tables.

When the province announced it was going to open its first casino, it cut the number of video-lottery terminals to 2,000 from 2,650 in New Brunswick. It also restricted the places where VLTs could be located.

The new Coasters venues all have between 15 and 25 VLTs along with other ALC gaming products.

There are already six of these gaming centres in the province in Moncton, Saint John, Beresford and the St. Mary's First Nation near Fredericton. There will be four more Coasters' complexes opened up this summer, including the one on the Metepenagiag First Nation.

Ecker said there is more than enough gambling opportunities available in the province regardless of what it is called or how it is repackaged.

"But when it comes time to [gamble], whether you want to call it a gambling, gaming, [or a] casino, we can play on words all you like but it's really the same thing and people still have addictions to these things," Ecker said.