What was in Saskatchewan's big casino proposal?

The Saskatchewan government may have thought it had a winning hand with an ambitious plan to sell casinos in Regina and Moose Jaw to First Nations — with more jobs, better education and a return on investment among the touted benefits.

Documents reveal scope of sprawling deal

Casino Regina is the flagship of SaskGaming's operations. It and Casino Moose Jaw helped the Crown corporation generate $53 million last year. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan government may have thought it had a winning hand with an ambitious plan to sell casinos in Regina and Moose Jaw to First Nations with more jobs, better education and a return on investment among the touted benefits.

But the proposed deal fizzled when the NDP said it wouldn't help the Saskatchewan Party fast-track the sale at the expense of proper scrutiny.

The deal may be dead. Still, documents and interviews with government officials reveal some interesting "what ifs." 

Sale expected to generate up to $200M 

First, there's the magnitude of the undertaking — including the cash from the sale.

The government says selling to the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), which already runs six casinos around the province, would likely have generated $100 million to $200 million for the treasury. 

It's generally understood that if the casino sale went through, the provincial government's casino profits would decline (but not disappear completely) and First Nations's revenues would go up.

Casinos have been dependable cash cows for Saskatchewan. In 2012, the Crown corporation that runs Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw recorded a net profit of about $53 million, half of which went to government coffers.

SIGA dollars could also be used differently

Meanwhile, another potentially big shakeup concerns the use of SIGAs profits, which in 2012-13 totalled about $87 million, with 25 per cent going to the government.

The Dakota Dunes casino south of Saskatoon has been a dependable money-maker for SIGA. ((SIGA))

As part of a memorandum of understanding which was to be signed earlier this month, the government and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (the First Nations group that owns SIGA) agreed to renegotiate the division of gaming money from the SIGA casinos.

In particular, there would be more spending on education, employment, and economic development for aboriginal people — and possibly less on certain areas deemed to be lower priority.

How would that work in practice?

Premier Brad Wall says when FSIN chief Perry Bellegarde approached the government in January with a proposed deal, Wall had a few ideas, including one pertaining to Community Development Corporations (CDCs).

CDCs get a quarter of gaming profits from the six SIGA casinos. 

The groups then spend millions every year on everything from recreation and culture to health.  Daycare upgrades, soccer tournaments and medical equipment get money, too.

The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority runs six casinos around the province, including the Living Sky Casino in Swift Current. (CBC)

The Battleford Tribal Council's CDC, for example, distributed $3.75 million in grant money to 158 projects in 2012-13.

They included $150,000 for "handicap van transportation" on the Onion Lake First Nation to just under $15,000 for "introductory scuba safety" in the Battlefords.

Projects 'arguably worthwhile': Wall

Wall said many community development projects are "arguably worthwhile" but he also confirmed that under a new gaming deal, he wants to see CDC spending targeted differently.

The government estimates about 11 per cent of all community development grant money currently goes to education and employment initiatives. Wall and his officials believe 11 per cent is too low.

"I said to [Bellegarde], well you know, we might be interested in moving forward but here's a couple of conditions.

"One, that we have a chance to look at the CDCs, that the chiefs would look at them — these are their corporations — with a view to focus on employment and education."

The bottom line is to put money into initiatives known to "deliver results," Wall said.

Auditor would get to examine SIGA books

Apart from the issue of who gets the money and how it's spread around, increased financial accountability could have been another key feature of the deal.

Wall notes that the deal would also have given the provincial auditor access to the books of the new, larger Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority — which by acquiring the Moose Jaw and Regina casinos would become the province's sole casino operator.

Online gambling would have been in deal, too

Finally, one briefly mentioned item in the MOU has the potential to turn into a major undertaking with long-lasting financial and social implications for people in Saskatchewan: online gambling.

The agreement would have kick-started negotiations to allow SIGA to deliver "casino-type games through the internet", something that is not currently allowed in Saskatchewan.

With files from Stefani Langenegger


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