Faltering casino in The Pas cannot move to Winnipeg, premier says

The owners of a First Nations-run casino in The Pas cannot move their operation to Winnipeg, says Premier Brian Pallister.

First Nations that own Aseneskak Casino want to relocate to Assiniboia Downs

First Nations casino operators in The Pas say they must move to survive, but Premier Brian Pallister says that move will not be to Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The owners of a First Nations-run casino in The Pas cannot move the operation to Winnipeg, says Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

A group of six northern Manitoba First Nations that owns Aseneskak Casino announced in late August it planned to pull up stakes and relocate to a larger market in the province.

A short time later, the group identified Winnipeg as their preferred destination, but the Progressive Conservative government provided a Gaming Market Study showing the casino market is oversupplied throughout the province, including in the capital city.

"Absolutely no," Pallister said on Thursday morning when reporters asked if there was any chance the casino would set up in the city.

The casino's owners have a clause in their licence agreement that allows a move — and they had negotiated a deal with Peguis First Nation to locate the casino at Assiniboia Downs — but the government of Manitoba has the final say.

And Pallister made it clear on Thursday it won't happen under his government. There is already too much gaming and gambling is not his choice for economic development, he said.

"I want people to get jobs, I want people to have opportunities to grow and learn and work together and help each other, and the gambling industry isn't going to do that.

"The rationale for setting up casinos on First Nations reserves that the previous government used was that it was going to create jobs in those communities," Pallister added.

"Moving casinos out of northern communities into the city of Winnipeg isn't going to create jobs in The Pas or Thompson or Flin Flon or anywhere else."

The New Democratic Party Opposition said the government is moving too fast. 

"This looks like a hasty political decision by the Pallister government, and we hope it was made after full consultation with Opaskwayak Cree Nation and stakeholders in the Winnipeg area," the party said in a written statement.

The NDP while in power approved the licence for the casino in The Pas and the clause that would have allowed it to be moved to another region. 

"We hope the Pallister government is serious about economic development in the region and not just mouthing platitudes," the NDP statement said. 

With files from Sean Kavanagh