Great Blue Heron Casino Tribe Locks Horns with Ontario Over ‘Bad Faith’ Gaming Expansion

Ontario’s provincial government has agreed to enter into mediation with the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSFIN), Durham Region News reports.

Great Blue Heron Casino
Great Blue Heron Casino
MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca, above, claims that Ontario Premier Doug Ford is “treading over” agreements between the Nation and the province to suit his own political agenda. (Image: Jason Liebregts/Metrol))

The tribe is incensed that the government has authorized gaming expansion within striking distance of its Great Blue Heron Casino without consultation. MSFIN says the government’s actions violate Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, which addresses indigenous rights.

In a statement, the Nation said it has “repeatedly warned the government about violations of negotiated agreements and previous commitments related to gaming in the Greater Toronto Area.”

MSFIN is seeking relief for “claims of agreement violations, bad faith negotiations and failures to provide consultation related to gaming.”

Broken Agreements

The Nation’s casino is based on its reservation near Lake Scucog in Durham Region, 90 miles northeast of Toronto. In July 2021, forty miles away, the Pickering Casino Resort opened its doors, at Durham Live, a sprawling entertainment district in Pickering that is still partly under construction.

Curiously, considering MSFIN’s objections, the Pickering Casino is owned and operated by Great Canadian Gaming, which also operates the Great Blue Heron on behalf of the Nation.

MSFIN has called out Ontario Premier Doug Ford (Progressive Conservative), who it says has broken an agreement with the previous administration to limit the number of casinos in Durham Region.

Without any manner of notice to MSIFN, the Ford government passed regulations to allow the Pickering Casino Resort to operate in breach of the government’s commitments with MSIFN to not operate any new casino in the [Greater Toronto area] within close proximity [to] MSIFN’s Great Blue Heron Casino,” said the statement.

“The Pickering casino’s opening is yet another glaring example of Premier Ford’s willingness to tread over signed agreements for political ends. This government has rewritten the Ontario gaming map to suit its own agenda,” added MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca.

‘Slap in the Face’

The Nation is also indignant about the expansion of operations at the Ajax Downs racetrack and Woodbine Casino in Toronto, as well as the province’s’ recent decision to liberalize and regulate online gaming.

In February, the tribe called the new digital gaming market a “slap in the face” to Ontario’s First Nations, that “reduces… promises of reconciliation to a joke.”

But LaRocca said this week the Nation trusted in the mediation process and looked forward to addressing “longstanding issues.”

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