The Metepenagiag First Nation is rolling the dice on a new entertainment facility that people in the northern First Nation hope will create new economic opportunities in the area.

Members of the First Nation have been working for the past six years on a special project designed to help turn around the economy.

The Riverside Entertainment Centre opened on May 8 and it is the start to fulfilling the dream started many years ago by a former chief.

“Our late former chief, the late Noah Augustine, basically had a vision to become self-sufficient — for our community, Metepenagiag First Nation — and at that time this whole project was a casino,” said Tracy Peter-Paul, the centre’s general manager.

After Augustine's death in a car accident in 2010, the community changed its plans for the project.

'There were people against it. Gambling is ... one of those things that is somewhat frowned upon. I mean people get addicted easily. But it is what it is. It makes money for us, and we're looking at it as a means for the band to be able to do other things.'- Adam Augustine

Instead of a casino, the Metepenagiag First Nation opted for an entertainment centre with a restaurant and bar attached.

But the goal remains the same: employ members of the First Nation community, instead of relying on government programs.

“They're able to be employed off the reserve, outside their own community,” she said.

The project has employed more than 100 from the area, many from the Metepenagiag First Nation.

The new facility will be a "Coaster." Coasters are considered destination gaming sites by the Atlantic Lottery Corp. A Coasters facility can have between 15 and 25 video lottery terminals. The Coasters facilities started in 2009 and there are now 20 around the province.

New centre will have 25 VLTs

The Atlantic Lottery Corp. says the Riverside Entertainment Centre has 25 video lottery terminals.

There were some in the community, who opposed the idea of the community cashing in on a gambling centre.

Adam Augustine, the facility’s director of operations, admitted it was a tough sell for some people.

"There were people against it. Gambling is ... one of those things that is somewhat frowned upon,” Augustine said.

“I mean people get addicted easily. But it is what it is. It makes money for us, and we're looking at it as a means for the band to be able to do other things.”

However, Anthony Peter-Paul, a regular at the restaurant, said the project is an important symbol for his community.

“The significance of having this place is just to show what First Nations people are capable of when it comes to business,” Peter-Paul said.

“You know it's a big project ... the community is pretty proud of it. It's something we can call our own. Seeing something grow and flourish — it's pretty interesting.”

The centre is about 30 kilometres away from Metepenagiag and that means drawing in more people to the facility.

Augustine said building the centre off the reserve also meant playing by a different set of rules.

“We assumed we can do what we want with our land, but that's not the case. It had not been designated as Indian reserve, which is through the government and it's a lengthy 18 to 24-month process for that to take place,” Augustine said.

The process is now underway to designate the centre as an "addition to reserve,” expanding the reach of the First Nation.