Chiefs ratify agreement to share gaming revenues

Jordana Huber
The Ottawa Citizen

TORONTO – Ontario has struck a $3-billion deal to share gambling revenues with First Nations, putting an end to a longstanding fight over casino cash dating back to the government of former premier Mike Harris.

The Chiefs of Ontario, meeting in Thunder Bay yesterday, voted almost unanimously to ratify the agreement that will see First Nations communities share a 1.7-per-cent cut of gaming revenues over 25 years.

The new agreement includes an immediate payout of $201 million, which government and First Nations leaders said would be used to address immediate infrastructure and socio-economic needs in 134 communities across the prov-ince.

“We were on the verge of heading into a long and nasty lawsuit with a $20-billion claim attached to it,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant.

“By entering into this partnership, it gives First Nations control over their own future, which is what they have been asking for.”

The deal will also end the “win-tax” lawsuit brought by the Ontario First Nations Limited Partnership against the province. First Nations have long maintained the government is not entitled to a 20-per-cent tax on Casino Rama’s gross revenue imposed by the Progressive Conservative government in 1996.

Casino Rama is on a reserve north of Toronto near Orillia.

The Chiefs of Ontario turned down a previous settlement offer last June that would have seen the province pay $2.5 billion over 20 years or a 1.6-per- cent share of gaming revenues.

Anishinabek Grand Council Chief John Beaucage called yesterday’s agreement “historic” and said it provided communities the certainty they need to develop long-term economic strategies.

“This represents the beginning of a new partnership with the province,” said Mr. Beaucage. “Our chiefs hope to negotiate a similar agreement in the area of natural resource revenue-sharing.”

Mr. Bryant said the deal was the beginning of a relationship that would allow the government and First Nations opportunities to partner in new ventures, particularly as development in northern Ontario grows.

“We want to be able to work together with First Nations to be able to take advantage of those opportunities,” said Mr. Bryant from Thunder Bay. “First Nations and the province have entered into a new relationship where they can trust each other and can come to an agreement involving very, very significant dollars.”