Manitoba revisits gambling expansion under Premier’s lead

The Manitoba government is reconsidering permitting gambling in the province, which hasn’t happened since 2018. Wab Kinew is the driving force behind this potential shift. The previous Manitoba provincial premier is noteworthy in that he appears to be the only one with First Nation heritage. Kinew believes that expanding gaming can have a substantial impact on a larger agenda to reconcile Indigenous communities with the mainstream.

Premier Kinew recently stated at a media event that he is open to new First Nations casinos in Manitoba. However, he stressed the importance of having a clear, comprehensive plan in place before beginning on any potential Winnipeg facilities. Kinew believes that, in the end, it will be up to individual community groups, such as the Treaty One Development Corporation or a Westman First Nation, to present real recommendations for consideration.

The reconsideration represents a significant departure from the Progressive Conservative (PC) government’s previous stance. In 2018, with former premier Brian Pallister steering the ship, the gambling expansion was halted after a report found too much competition. Based on online Canadian gambling news, the PC government used this justification to oppose moving the Aseneskak Casino, a First Nations-run casino in The Pas, to Winnipeg.

Pallister’s 2018 throne speech, which stated that there would be a moratorium on all further development of gambling until an overall review could take place, reinforced this pause in its expansion. Pallister expressed concern over Manitoba’s reliance on income from gambling activities. Pallister had said earlier that we shouldn’t be too dependent on gambling revenues for the future strategy in this area.

Kinew’s New Democratic Party (NDP), which had opposed the PC government’s decision, is now in power and wants to shift course. Kinew’s news appearance suggests a readiness to allow gambling expansion, but with a focus on social responsibility. The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) will play a part in such regulation.

The recent appointment of new members to the MBLL board suggested this new direction. This is seen as a purposeful drive to promote the province’s gaming business. This mission has been entrusted by Glen Simard, the Minister of Sport, Culture, Heritage, and Tourism, to a new board led by Jeff Traeger, former president of the local United Food and Commercial Union (UFCU). This mandate directs the MBLL to collaborate with stakeholders to encourage gambling development, but at a pace that fosters economic reconciliation between Indigenous communities and local organizations while retaining faith in community service.

While the NDP is enthusiastic about expanding gambling, the present opposition Progressive Conservative Party has been more cautious. MLA Obby Khan has asked for more clarity on the expansion plans. Khan pointed out that until we know precisely what is involved in this expansion, we cannot get a viewpoint or fully understand its implications.

With this potential change in the gambling landscape, as Manitoba proceeds amidst all of these discussions and firm decisions that are yet to be made, attention remains on managing an economy with reasonable social responsibility while keeping communities strong.

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