Saskatchewan

Casino agreement concerns emerge

As the Saskatchewan government and First Nations prepare to review their long-term casino deal, some contentious issues are emerging.

As the Saskatchewan government and First Nations prepare to review their long-term casino deal, some contentious issues are emerging.

A memo obtained by CBC News highlights a series of concerns the province is raising about First Nations gaming in Saskatchewan.

The Jan. 6 memo obtained by CBC News comes to light just days before provincial and aboriginal officials sit down and review the 25-year deal from 2002 that covers casinos in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Yorkton, Swift Current, on the White Bear First Nation near Carlyle and on the Whitecap Dakota First Nation south of Saskatoon

In his letter, Tim McMillan, the minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, says he wants the board of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), which controls the First Nations casinos, to have a strong background in business and to be free of so-called "special interests".

Critics have noted the SIGA board is large and mostly made up of politicians, not business experts.

McMillan says he wants a more efficient, business-like organization.

"We want to see any change that can see more of the funds meant for First Nations communities actually flowing through to those communities," McMillan said.

One quarter of on-reserve casino profits goes to five community development corporations that distribute the money to reserves and other communities.

The provincial government says the cost of running these corporations — an average of 19 per cent — is too high.

However, Gary Standing, the chair of the Northern Lights Community Development Corporation, isn't so sure.

"I don't think they're high to begin with," Standing said. "I know the range that I think non profits look at is a range between 15 and 20 per cent."

Northern Lights has 11 board members and in 2009 board costs totalled $300,000. That included a retreat in Edmonton totalling $60,000.

"To me, that's the cost of doing board business," Standing said. "As I said ... we have board members that come from all across northern Saskatchewan."

McMillan indicated he has concerns about administration costs, but he can't force change on First Nations chiefs.

Any changes to the casino agreeement, which is reviewed every five years, have to be agreed to by both sides.

The organization of chiefs that runs SIGA, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, declined to comment.

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