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Keywords:

  • Alberta;
  • gambling;
  • economic development;
  • First Nations;
  • gaming policy
  • Alberta;
  • jeux de hasard et d’argent;
  • développement économique;
  • Premières Nations;
  • politique sur les jeux de hasard et d’argent

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

The Province of Alberta in 2001 implemented the First Nations Gaming Policy (FNGP) to improve First Nations development potential by permitting the construction of reserve casinos. This article argues that during the policy development stages provincial and First Nations leaders failed to consider the geographic placement of reserve communities, both in terms of where casinos would be placed and how gaming revenues would ultimately be distributed. Therefore, a policy intended to assist with First Nations economic rejuvenation in Alberta has benefitted a small proportion of First Nations while exacerbating regional economic difficulties the policy was in part calculated to ameliorate. The authors recommend revisiting the FNGP to establish a more equitable revenue distribution formula, thus resulting in a greater distribution of gaming revenues to a larger number of First Nations.

La production des disparités régionales dans la quête de l’égalitééconomique : Une évaluation de la politique sur les jeux de hasard et d’argent des Premières Nations de l’Alberta, 2006–2010

C’est en 2001 que la province de l’Alberta a mis en œuvre sa politique sur les jeux de hasard et d’argent des Premières Nations; le but était de promouvoir le développement des Premières Nations en autorisant la construction de casinos dans les réserves. Cet article fait valoir que, dans le cadre du processus d’élaboration de la politique, les dirigeants de la province et des Premières Nations ont omis d’examiner la situation géographique des collectivités dans les réserves, autant au niveau de la localisation des casinos que des modes de distribution des revenus des jeux. Si le but affirmé de la politique visait à améliorer les conditions économiques des Premières Nations en Alberta, elle a profitéà une fraction de la population des Premières Nations et a fait en sorte que les difficultés économiques à l’échelle régionale se soient aggravées. Les auteurs suggèrent de revoir la politique sur les jeux de hasard et d’argent des Premières Nations dans le but d’assurer une formule qui aura pour effet de distribuer les revenus obtenus des jeux de hasard et d’argent à un nombre plus élevé de Premières Nations.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

Citing high unemployment rates and meagre economic outcomes, in 1993 several Province of Alberta First Nations approached provincial officials requesting the right to build casinos in reserve communities as a means of improving local socio-economic conditions.1 In 1997, Alberta proposed the implementation of a First Nations Gaming Policy (FNGP) to support First Nations “economic, social and community development projects” by devoting a portion of revenues generated in one or several reserve casinos to “initiatives such as infrastructure and life skills training” (AGLC 2011). Ratified in 2001, the FNGP enabled the construction of five First Nations casinos that, as of 2010, were contributing considerably to Alberta's $2.5 billion gaming industry, which included 27 combined casinos and racing entertainment centres, 12 680 slot machines and 5964 Video Lottery Terminals (Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Today the First Nations casinos produce on average $100 million annually that is deposited into the First Nations Development Fund (FNDF) that 45 First Nations have prescribed access to; and roughly $50 million in charitable gambling revenues assigned specifically for use by the five First Nations hosting casinos.2 Provincial officials regularly cite the reserve casino project's success, despite a lack of convincing evidence concerning the FNDF's overall performance or how the FNGP's implementation has impacted Alberta's First Nations economically. Further to this, it remains uncertain how this centrally-devised policy is unfolding regionally. This article in part rectifies this oversight, its key conclusion being that the FNGP has produced significant regional economic disparities leading to an imbalance in gaming wealth distribution. As a result, two wealthy gaming nations have emerged while the majority of First Nations receive only a nominal annual gaming revenue allocation.

Literature review

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

Beginning in the late 1980s, United States Indian nations started utilizing reservation casinos as an economic stimulus. Described as “islands of poverty in a sea of wealth” (Anderson and Parker 2008, 641), as one researcher has noted, reservation communities “[w]ith little or no economy or tax base to fund essential services … turned to gaming, through self-determination, to generate government revenue needed to fund these services and provide employment for tribal members” (Schaap 2010, 381). By 2002, over half of all tribal members living in the contiguous 48 states belonged to casino-operating tribes (Evans and Topoleski 2003) and, in 2008, Indian gaming revenues topped $26.7 billion with 233 Indian tribes operating 411 casinos, bingo halls, and pull-tab operations in 28 states (NIGA 2009). Dating to 1996, Canada's First Nations’ gaming industry is by comparison diminutive in scope, with 15 for profit and two charitable casinos operating nationally that generate an estimated $1 billion annual gross revenues (Belanger 2010a). Accordingly, a large proportion of the research literature on casino gambling concerns its effect on US reservations (Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Recent studies have however improved our collective understanding of these phenomena (e.g., Belanger 2006, 2011c; Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Even so, it is difficult to generalize about gambling's inter-jurisdictional impacts for they vary as a function of pre-existing availability and exposure to gambling, the gamblers’ patronage origin, how gambling revenue is distributed, and baseline levels of community impoverishment (Williams, Rehm, and Stevens 2011). Therefore, evaluating the US Indian gaming industry in part offers a comparative context and the baseline for further analyses.

Similar to American Indian gaming research, Canadian First Nations gaming research tends to emphasize the economic and sovereign/self-government aspects of casino operations, and gambling-related health and well-being issues. The spotlight on sovereignty and the associated economic development issues is arguably due to three factors. One, American Indian reservations are Congressionally empowered to manage internal economic development, which the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (2008) heralds as a key foundation of augmented American Indian self-determination. Two, gaming tribes since the 1980s have been forced to confront State resistance to negotiating Congress-stipulated tribal gaming compacts (Spilde 1998; Rand and Light 2001; Goldberg and Champagne 2002; Light and Rand 2005; Fenelon 2006; Cattelino 2008). Third, and most importantly, First Nations leaders adopted the American Indian position that operating casinos was a sovereign right (Belanger 2006, 2012; Lazarus et al. 2006). American Indian and First Nations gaming is therefore heralded as a beacon of Indian sovereignty (Stein 1998; Gaughen 2011; Hansen and Skopek 2011), whereas Congressional demands for state-American Indian compacts are criticized as an intolerable imposition compromising American Indians’ inherent sovereignty (Mezey 1996; Light and Rand 2005; Ackerman 2009; Schaap 2010; Skopek and Hansen 2011). Perhaps as troubling is the fact that gaming tribes have little to no recourse in instances where states desire to renegotiate the compacts (Light and Rand 2005; Rand 2007; Rausch 2007); or when the provinces refuse First Nations a substantial consultative role during gaming policy development (Belanger and Williams 2012).

That we remain largely uninformed about provincial gaming policies’ impacts on First Nations communities and their host provinces is problematic for these policies notably guide casino operations, highlighting the direct provincial impact upon First Nations economic development (Nilson 2004; Belanger 2010b; Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011; Belanger et al. 2012). In addition to undermining indigenous sovereignty by allowing the provinces to legislatively penetrate what were previously exclusively federal domains, arguably the provinces hosting First Nations casinos took advantage of economically impoverished First Nations’ willingness to accept restrictive provincial policies in their zeal to access gambling revenues. Similar trends are evident in the US, where similarly ad-hoc revenue distribution policies were established that also failed to acknowledge vital spatial characteristics (Light et al. 2004; Foley 2005). Consequently, despite the fact that hundreds of tribes operate hundreds of casinos, gambling wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of American Indian tribes representing a minority of the overall Indian population (Kalt 2002; Cornell 2008).

Kelley (2001, 20) warned Canadian officials of the inherent risks of relying on similar policy models while emphasizing the need to “develop a sound policy framework that will address current concerns [i.e., revenue distribution, problem gambling] before they develop into future problems.” He added that policymakers “have an advantage in that the experiences of tribal gambling throughout the US over the past two decades can act as an important reference for developing a policy framework for First Nations casinos.” It appears that these warnings were generally ignored, even if Canadian provinces demand as a condition of licensing revenue sharing amongst gaming and non-gaming First Nations as a means of ensuring most First Nations have access to a portion of the revenues (Belanger 2006). Less encouraging are provincial and state demands that First Nations transfer a percentage of their gaming revenues into state and provincial treasuries (cf. Rand and Light 2006; Belanger and Williams 2012).

Despite these and similar policy failings, it is evident that casino-related economic benefits have not evaded all First Nations and reservations. Several studies point to casino-related increased infrastructure values (Anders 1996; Snyder 1999; Farrigan 2005; J. Taylor and Kalt 2005; Ha and Ullmer 2007) and benefits for other non-gambling businesses and state economies (W. Taylor 2001; Evans and Topoleski 2003; Andrews 2007). However, the economic boon anticipated by the majority of First Nations and American Indian communities hosting casinos has failed to materialize (NIGA 2009; Kayseas et al. 2010; Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). In instances where revenue distribution models are in place, the majority of communities hosting casinos have also been shown to profit disproportionately over non-host communities (J. Taylor and Kalt 2005; Cornell 2008). For example, substantial improvements have been identified in Arizona and New Mexico's gaming reservations compared to non-gaming communities (Jojola and Ong 2006; Gonzales et al. 2007). Significant unemployment reductions in host reservations have been noted (Murray 1993; Cozzetto 1995; Cornell et al. 1998) as have noteworthy employment and income gains (Cozzetto 1995; Anders 1996; d’Hauteserre 1998; Ninokawa 2002; Evans and Topoleski 2003; Gonzales 2003; Spilde et al. 2003; Topoleski 2003; Fenelon 2006; Kim 2006; Wenz 2006, 2008; Reagan and Gitter 2007; Conner and Taggart 2009).

Evident revenue distribution disparities resulting from poorly-constructed provincial and state gaming policies that tend to undermine indigenous sovereignty and development opportunities have not stopped several scholars from concluding that American Indian and First Nations gaming's positives at this stage outweigh the negatives (e.g., Cornell 2008; Schaap 2010; Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). This by and large echoes S. Thompson's (see also Chenault 2000) enthusiastic declaration about the Indian casino industry's promise for both the US and Canada:

Indian gaming is the future for Native tribes’ survival and liberation from the federal governments of the United States and Canada. Without this liberation and autonomy, tribal sovereignty will never become a reality and North American Indians will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair due to the lack of financial support necessary to educate, rehabilitate, and stimulate growth in Indian Country. (S. Thompson 1994, 533–534)

As Cornell (2008, 64) nevertheless laments, “it is difficult to know, comprehensively and in detail, how much money Indian nations are making from gaming, what exactly they are doing with the money they make, or what its social and economic impacts are.” For example, US Indian casinos located next to large cities are economically quite successful, whereas the geographically removed enterprises typically realize modest returns, trends that are becoming more evident in Canada (Belanger 2006). One needs to question why state and provincial governments have developed policies that fail to consider these and similar geographic disparities.

The following analysis of the FNDF speaks to several of these issues; shows us precisely how much revenue is being generated and thus directed to First Nations; and the ensuing types of projects. It also helps us to better comprehend how a policy enacted for the benefit of Alberta's First Nations operates, and the political response (or lack thereof) to unanticipated challenges.

First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

In 1993, the Tsuu T’ina First Nation (southwest of Calgary) and the Enoch Cree First Nation (west of Edmonton) were awarded licenses to hold super-bingos that guaranteed jackpots exceeding $10 000. That year, the Tsuu T’ina turned a $100 000 profit, which led to immediate calls to create an independent First Nations Gaming Commission (Stewart 1993). First Nations leaders advocated for a policy model ensuring all bands would benefit equally from any reserve casino developments. Several provincial ministers and officials, the federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and Alberta's First Nations chiefs discussed these issues at a chiefs’ summit in November 1993. A second summit held in March 1995 resulted in the Minister of Family and Social Services, Mike Cardinal, encouraging First Nations leaders to “take a leading role” to determine “if a casino industry will exist” (Edmonton Journal 1995, A7). In December, following a third summit in November 1995, Tsuu T’ina band members voted 73 percent in favor of a casino proposal, prompting a January 1996 meeting between Premier Klein, Alberta Lotteries Review Committee chair Judy Gordon, and Tsuu T’ina Chief Roy Whitney and the band council. All parties agreed that final arrangements about “casino size, location, construction dates, and revenue-sharing possibilities still needed to be discussed” (Calgary Herald 1996, A6).

As early as 1996, a plan was tabled that would have allocated 10 percent of First Nation casino profits to a fund benefitting the province's First Nations, while the First Nation, or the management company running the casino, would receive 50 percent of the profits. The remaining 40 percent would go to Alberta's licensed charities (Arnold 1996). First Nations balked at the proposal and remained noncommittal while persevering with their lobby efforts. In June 2000, however, Premier Ralph Klein tasked gaming Minister Murray Smith with formulating a policy with First Nations leaders (W. Thompson 2000, A6). Later in September, Premier Klein responded positively to the proposed policy, specifically to a provision designed to allocate all reserve casino profits to the provincial First Nations and, in December, he went public with his support. This offered First Nations leaders an important vote of confidence, as did Klein's refusal to bow to pressure from traditional casino owners’ concerns regarding market saturation and potentially advantageous provisions for First Nations casino owners. The Premier was clear that reserve casinos were acceptable as they would be “economic endeavours as opposed to strictly gambling” operations (Geddes 2000, A1; Thomas 2000). First Nations were pleased with the Premier's pronouncements and, one month later on January 21, 2001, the FNGP was ratified. It did however contain one unanticipated modification: a proviso directing 30 percent of all First Nations casinos’ slot machine revenues to the Alberta Lottery Fund for provincial charitable use.

Without publicly acknowledging the 30 percent proviso's inclusion, the FNGP, provincial officials claimed, would afford First Nations the opportunity “to support economic, social and community development projects as well as use charitable gaming proceeds for initiatives such as infrastructure and life skills training” (AGLC 2011). By 2006, seven First Nations had applied to the Alberta Gambling and Liquor Commission (AGLC) under the terms and conditions established for charitable casinos. The River Cree Resort and Casino was the first to open in 2006, followed in succession by the Cold Lake First Nation's Casino Dene and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation's Grey Eagle Casino in 2007; and the Eagle River Casino and Travel Plaza in Whitecourt and the Stoney Nakoda Casino on Stoney Nakoda First Nation in 2008.

First Nations Gaming Policy structure

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

The centrepiece of the FNGP is the First Nations Development Fund Grant Program (FNDF), which provides all provincial First Nations access to gambling revenues for “economic, social and community development projects” (Alberta 2004, 3). It was ratified by 77 percent of Alberta's First Nations in 2004 (Komarnicki 2011). Alberta was the last Canadian province to permit First Nations casinos. Its First Nations gaming model operates similarly to the provincial charity model (Figure 1). On the surface, the First Nations operate as would other provincial charity casinos. Closer scrutiny however exposes several key differences (AGLC 2011).

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Figure 1. Revenue distribution from slot machines in First Nations’ casinos

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  • 1) 
    Whereas non-Native casinos allocate 70 percent of gambling revenues to the Alberta Lottery Fund, First Nations’ casino revenue is distributed accordingly: 30 percent of slot-machine revenue is to be divided between the casino operator and the host First Nation, which needed to register as a charitable entity prior to any funds being released.3 The remaining 70 percent is to be divided between existing lottery programs (30 percent) and the FNDF (40 percent), for the benefit of all provincial First Nations. Of this 40 percent, three-quarters is available to the five host First Nations that have casinos, with the remaining one-quarter shared among the remaining 40 provincial First Nations. The latter percentage is divided equally among the 40 First Nations and the other half is divided according to First Nations population figures (see Figure 2);
  • 2) 
    whereas a private owner operates a non-Native casino, a First Nation community adopts that responsibility;
  • 3) 
    host First Nations are required to engage a casino operator to guide daily operations. In each case, provisions exist unique to each arrangement to ensure First Nations employment and, in certain cases, for the First Nation to eventually adopt complete operational control over an agreed time period;
  • 4) 
    whereas non-Native casinos are required to contribute to 180 charities per year, each host First Nation is required to establish a charity to which a year-long casino license is assigned.
image

Figure 2. First Nations Development Fund revenue

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To access the 15 percent allocated for the host community, the First Nations must establish a “host First Nation charity” that operates year-round according to AGLC eligibility requirements for casino events licenses. The AGLC monitors all slot machine returns and establishes the regulatory framework outlined in what is popularly known as the “brown book,” the rules and regulations guiding First Nations casino operations. Paid charity workers maintain operations for each First Nation casino, and each First Nation charity is responsible for counting chips and table proceeds. Operators must also produce slot counts. Each shift requires a shift runner, two cashiers, most times a banker, and a general manager. The account room houses a supervisor and at least two people counting cash brought in by chip runners. Wages and additional operating expenses (e.g., travel allowances and stipends to enable board of director meetings) are drawn from the host casino's gambling revenues, which permit each charity to vet and approve First Nations funding applications. Identical to the FNDF, Alberta dictates acceptable expenditures by categorizing them as “approved uses.”

Non-charity or non-host First Nations can utilize FNDF funds for economic, social, and community development projects.

FNDF monies cannot be used to finance the development or acquisition of a casino or dedicated gaming facility or gaming equipment; to meet any operating or development costs–including but not limited to debt servicing costs, or repair and maintenance costs–associated with any gaming activity, casino or dedicated gaming facility; or to subsidize any rates, pay for special promotions, subsidize any gaming activity, or any casino or dedicated gaming facility. (Belanger 2011b, 148)

Per capita FNDF disbursements are also not permitted. Aboriginal Relations provides grants from the FNDF Grant Program to assist First Nations with prescribed economic, social, and community development projects, plus projects involving education, health, and infrastructure. The FNDF is not unlike traditional trust funds managed by the federal government for the benefit of “Indians”: Alberta holds the monies in trust for the respective First Nations and owes these monies only “notionally” (cf. Neu and Therrien 2003). Aboriginal Relations will accordingly release these funds only when a First Nation satisfies program officers’ expectations that they will be expended for First Nations use and benefit and in conjunction with the controlled categories.

Notably provincial officials chose to appropriate a substantial sum (30 percent of net slot machine revenues) from First Nations operations. This was somewhat surprising considering that other provinces housing First Nations gaming industries did not appropriate similar substantial sums. For example, Manitoba in the early 2000s permitted construction of two First Nations casinos with all profits assigned for First Nations use. In 2002, Saskatchewan lowered its take of First Nations gambling revenues from 37.5 percent to 25 percent while raising the overall First Nations take of profits to 75 percent.4 It must be noted in the latter case that non-Native casinos contribute a portion of their revenues for First Nations use, which helps to balance out the First Nations provincial contribution. Alberta had in place the regulatory infrastructure to monitor provincial gaming enterprises, meaning that the costs associated with integrating First Nations casino operations could have easily been offset through annual payments adjusted for unanticipated expenses related to industry expansion. Finally, Alberta officials were conscious of the various lawsuits consuming Ontario officials centered on the provincial Win-Tax implemented in 1996, which unilaterally altered a First Nations-Ontario agreement directing Casino-Rama revenues to First Nations development projects.5 The various lawsuits eventually compelled the controversial Win Tax's repeal in 2007, which redirected roughly $80 million annually to the First Nations. Provincial officials also agreed to provide an additional $1.3 billion in provincial lottery proceeds (over a 20-year period).

Despite almost two decades of operations we know little about the exigencies of the various provincial First Nations gaming policies and their impacts upon the beneficiary First Nations (Saskatchewan is an exception; see Nilson 2004). In keeping with these trends little evidence exists probing how the Alberta FNGP has unfolded since First Nations casino operations began in 2006. The following sections commence this evaluation, which begins with an overview of the revenues assigned First Nations and their charities, and the more immediate economic benefits related to improved employment opportunities and business start-ups.

Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

The first step in a socioeconomic impact analysis of gambling is to document how much money is actually being expended, received, and disbursed, as this serves as a rough guide of the potential magnitude of these impacts, especially the economic ones. This data was compiled from the following sources: the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) annual reports and the Alberta Lottery Fund website, which lists the details of all First Nations Development Fund (FNDF) disbursements. Chief and council members’ perspectives obtained from transmitted and/or printed speeches, interviews, and testimonials and, where available, community newsletters are also used to provide context. First, newspaper and electronic media sources (e.g., radio and television news reports, YouTube) were reviewed for relevant information regarding community-based projections for each project. In each case, multiple newspaper sources were employed to confirm the data. For referencing, we selected the publication in which the data was first printed. Second, eight elite interviews with band council members and economic development personnel were conducted to confirm data obtained from the media and other sources. In the case of inconsistencies, the interview data was substituted. Fortunately, this occurred on only two occasions, suggesting sound media coverage of the attendant issues. Third, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) data detailing band council budgets and expenditures were utilized. Finally, FNDF revenues and their utilization were obtained from the AGLC's public website, Alberta Lottery Fund: Who Benefits (AGLC 2012). In sum, the various data sources provide the baseline data needed to evaluate the respective casinos’ impacts.

The following sections are distilled from FNDF data gleaned from the Alberta Lottery Fund: Who Benefits website. First Nations estimated casino slot machine revenues for the period 2006–2010 were $687.5 million, and the First Nations charities were assigned 15 percent of this total, which amounted to roughly $104 million. First Nations casino revenues have increased annually from $13.5 million in 2006 to nearly $105 million in 2009–2010 (Figure 2). In total, $276 million was allocated to the FNDF in that time. The provincial First Nations and the five First Nations charities were the direct recipients and primary beneficiaries of the roughly $380 million in combined FNDF and charitable revenues since 2006.

Similar to what has been shown in several studies of American Indian reservation casino projects, the enhancement of First Nations infrastructure and community programming represents the most important and positive benefits of legalized gambling in Alberta (cf. Anders 1996; Snyder 1999; Farrigan 2005; J. Taylor and Kalt 2005; Ha and Ullmer 2007). The FNDF provides additional revenue unavailable through federal programming. The main impact of legal gambling on First Nation's charities is that it facilitates the charities’ ongoing ability to provide the local services, according to the 17 FNDF project allocation categories.

The five First Nations charities have channelled their assigned revenues to the prescribed community development initiatives. Like their American counterparts (e.g., Evans and Topoleski 2003; Gonzales 2003; Spilde et al. 2003; Topoleski 2003; Fenelon 2006; Ninokawa 2002; Wenz 2006, 2008; Reagan and Gitter 2007; Conner and Taggart 2009), a significant percentage of the First Nation casino charities in Alberta employ First Nations people. Out of the approximately 170 employees, 90 percent are believed to be First Nations with a total payroll of roughly $3.4 million. There have been 31 new businesses opened on 12 First Nations directly attributable to FNDF funding. Despite this relatively small number, capital-intensive economic development planning is currently underway, such as industrial parks, to attract new businesses. Others are using FNDF revenues to improve accounting systems; purchase buildings and real estate; and build new, or rehabilitate old, business structures. Several have utilized the FNDF to conduct needs assessments and for corporate restructuring. As will be expounded upon below, out of a total of 1200 employees (casinos and charities), 361 First Nations individuals are employed within an annual estimated payroll of $34.5 million, from which First Nations employees make nearly $10.9 million. These jobs are employment opportunities that did not exist prior to the casino openings and a significant percentage of these workers may have been unemployed or underemployed prior to their casino-related employment.

The following sections assess the FNGP's spatial characteristics. Arguably one could simply conclude, based on the various studies cited in the literature review, that such an analysis anticipates a disproportionate gain for certain communities, for example, or that government policies violate First Nations economic and political sovereignty. However, no other similar work to date catalogues the impact of First Nations casinos within a provincial context. Furthermore, in Canada no work has been produced evaluating a provincial gaming policy's impact on First Nations, specifically how a centrally-devised policy intended to benefit First Nations is unfolding regionally. These issues are explored below.

Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

First Nations have received significant benefits from gambling; however, as discussed below, these benefits have not been evenly distributed, which we argue is directly attributable to the provincial FNGP. As seen in Figure 3, three treaty zones divide the province of Alberta: Treaty 6 signed in 1876, Treaty 7 signed in 1877, and Treaty 8 signed in 1899. (A tiny portion of Treaty 4 negotiated in 1874 overlaps the province's south-eastern corner, whereas a small section of Treaty 10 negotiated in 1906 overlaps the province's eastern-central region) The three principal treaties efficiently divide the province into three geographic zones (south, central, north) for comparative analyses of FNDF revenue distribution. The number of First Nations accessing FNDF revenues from each zone is as follows: five from the south; 17 from the central; and 22 from the north. The following sections establish how the gambling revenues are being distributed and how the benefits can be measured considering that Alberta's First Nations originally proposed a gaming industry that was structured to “increase opportunities for their participation in Alberta's economy” (AGLC 2001) and give them “the means to support economic, social and community development projects as well as use charitable gaming proceeds for initiatives such as infrastructure and life skills training” (AGLC 2011). The five host First Nations (two south, three central) have been omitted from this analysis as the amplified revenues skew overall results (Treaty 7 has two casinos, and Treaty 6 has three casinos, whereas Treaty 8 has none). The purpose for omitting these data was also to provide the context needed to evaluate the non-host casino communities’ outcomes, specifically considering that they were originally intended as equal FNDF beneficiaries.

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Figure 3. Alberta numbered treaty regions  Note: The numbers represent individual and affiliated First Nations  SOURCE: Adapted from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (2012) Distribution by treaty region

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Viewing aggregate values, the northern Treaty 8 communities appear to be outstripping their Treaty partners in terms of FNDF disbursements. In 2009–2010, when the FNDF increased by 3.1 percent to $104 million, both Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 communities’ FNDF payments levelled off from the previous year (Figure 4). Only the Treaty 7 allocation increased during the same time period. This is partly attributable to the disproportionate number of non-host First Nations sited in Treaty 8 (22) compared with Treaty 6 (14) and Treaty 7 (3). The FNDF funding distribution model also plays an important role: half of the 12.5 percent FNDF non-host allocation is divided equally amongst the 40 communities.

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Figure 4. FNDF treaty disbursements by treaty, 2006–2010

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Figure 5 however illustrates that the per community distributions are substantially less in the Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 regions compared to that of Treaty 7. The southern Treaty 7 First Nations (Kainai Nation, Piikani Nation, and the Siksika Nation) receive the highest per community FNDF disbursement. The FNDF revenue model once again partially accounts for the discrepancy: half of the 12.5 percent non-host First Nations FNDF allocations are distributed according to community size, with the largest First Nations, by population, receiving the highest percentage of FNDF disbursements. The lack of host First Nations in the Treaty 8 region means also that charity revenues are not driving local development, unlike Treaty 6 and 7 regions, whose five casinos have generated $104 million in charity revenues since 2006,6 and continue to generate on average $55 million annually for the charities.

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Figure 5. Average per community FNDF disbursements by treaty, 2006–2010

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Geographic placement of reserves leads to higher regional costs not accounted for in the FNGP. For instance, northern First Nations communities with on average smaller populations experience unique challenges. As an example, Treaty 8 contains nine very isolated communities (i.e., fly-in, non-paved logging roads, or winter roads, which in turn seasonally restricts vehicle access to those First Nations communities). This invariably increases the local cost of living as all materials must be either flown in or trucked in over long distances. Community infrastructure often pales in comparison to southern First Nations (e.g., water treatment, roadways, social capital). Northern health care expenditures are higher due to costs related to housing health care professionals in these isolated communities and for travel to obtain health care in the south. The diversified nature of the central and southern economies permits smaller First Nations to pursue a wider variety of business opportunities that are unavailable in the north. Southern First Nations are also generally better developed because they have higher populations resulting in increased access to education leading to professionally trained staffs that specialize in health, education, social services, or economic development. Based on our analysis of FNDF revenue utilization, we conclude that the Treaty 8 First Nations use the majority of their FNDF revenue to provide for basic infrastructure, whereas the central and southern communities use the FNDF for investment (also Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Finally, whereas it appears that Treaties 6 and 8 chart similar outcomes, Treaty 6 First Nations benefit from casino employment and as such a higher rate of circulating wealth.

To reiterate, those who developed the FNDF did not consider the cost of living and travel by geographic region in the revenue allocation scheme. This oversight has in part created an FNDF-related gross financial disparity between Treaty residents as, depending on a reserve's physical location, the basic necessities of life may cost significantly more on one reserve than what is found on another reserve.

Host vs. non-host First Nations

First Nations casinos are licensed and regulated by the AGLC in the same way as traditional casinos and must conform to the same regulations, including the payback percentages on the various gambling games and regulations respecting labour unions. However, there are some important distinctions. Firstly, as discussed above, First Nations casinos must operate on reserve land. Secondly, casino table game revenue is distributed differently (unfortunately, First Nation table games data is not available). Thirdly, slot revenue is also distributed differently. The host-First Nations receive 75 percent of all FNDF allocations, which have amounted to $207 million of the roughly $276 million generated for the period 2006–2010. However, there is considerable variability within this group of five, with the Enoch Cree First Nation (River Cree Casino and Resort) and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation (Grey Eagle Casino) the main beneficiaries (Figure 6).

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Figure 6. FNDF allocations for the 5 First Nations that host casinos

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The remaining 40 provincial First Nations divide the remaining $70 million, which from 2006 to 2010 amounted to less than $1.75 million per community—or approximately $575 000 yearly. With the exception of the five host communities, gambling represents a relatively small activity, economically adding roughly 2.3 percent to the average First Nation budget. The distribution of revenue as a function of host versus non-host status is displayed in Table 2. All provincial First Nations are direct recipients of FNDF funding but, to reiterate, further evaluation of the FNDF demonstrates that the host communities are entitled to 81.8 percent of available funding, leaving 40 First Nations to divide the remaining 18.2 percent amongst themselves. This is calculated as follows: as shown in Figure 1, 15 percent of slot machine revenues is set aside for the casino operator and 30 percent is allocated to Alberta. Of the remaining 55 percent, 15 percent is assigned to the First Nations charities and 40 percent is allocated to the FNDF. At this stage, three-quarters of the FNDF (which amounts to 30 percent of the total fund) is thus allocated for use by host First Nations, with the remainder set aside for non-host First Nations use. In sum, 45 percent of the 55 percent allocated to the FNDF for First Nations access, or a total of 81.8 percent is assigned for host First Nations utilization.

Table 2.  FNDF contributions to host First Nations as a percentage above federal payments, 2006–2009
  Federal Contribution FNDF FNDF as Percent of Federal Contribution
 
  1. Note: The data for this table is drawn from the 21 First Nations for which complete data sets were available.

Total (4 Host First Nations)$152 190 628$126 782 62483.3%
Yearly Average $12 682 552 $10 565 219  
Total (21 Non-Host FNs)$1 056 942 912$24 235 068 2.3%
Yearly Average $16 776 872 $384 684  

Being a host does not necessarily guarantee success, for two of the more expensive casinos brought in minimal returns or experienced revenue drops last year (see Belanger and Williams 2012). The Stoney Casino and Resort appears to be doing better in comparison, but when the original $27 million investment is factored in, it makes less than $4 million in annual FNDF allocations and less than $2 million in annual charity revenues. The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation lost money in 2009–2010 based on its reduced FNDF payment and its drop in charity revenues (Belanger et al. 2012). The latter metric is a more accurate measure since charity revenues are a reflection of slot machine revenues and gambler spending. The Cold Lake First Nations also lost money from 2008–2009. Tsuu T’ina management maintains that the casino has met anticipated projections and that hotel expansion plans have been approved. Nevertheless, even the struggling host communities are doing quite well compared with their non-host counterparts, an outcome directly attributable to the FNGP.

Urban/Rural Disparity

In addition to a Treaty disparity and a regional disparity, an urban-rural disparity is evident in the placement of the casinos in the chosen host communities. This is almost certainly due to the fact that the River Cree Casino is just outside of Edmonton and the Grey Eagle Casino is just outside of Calgary, whereas the remaining three casinos are located in rural areas. Reserves were originally established to segregate First Nations from Canadian society and most were located sizeable distances from urban areas (Dockstator 1993; Mawhinney 1994). Once assimilation occurred, it was assumed that the reserves would be abandoned, decommissioned, and the lands turned over to provincial jurisdiction (e.g., Dickason 1992). This outcome did not unfold as expected and today most reserves are still geographically removed from mainstream Canadian society and likewise still in need of considerable economic stimulus. The lack of local development and the distance from potential customers suggests that Alberta's decision to demand First Nations casinos be built on reserve land jeopardizes the success of casino operations. Furthermore, no consideration was given to potentially erecting First Nation casinos in any provincial city.7

There are specific reasons for these disparities. Both the Tsuu T’ina and Enoch Cree Nations were at one time located at measurable distances from Calgary and Edmonton, respectively, but local municipal growth combined with urban sprawl has closed that gap significantly in recent years. The remaining three casino sites offer unique challenges, specifically as they relate to potential customer catchment. For example, based on the expertise of the managers operating First Nations casinos with whom we communicated, a casino needs 40 000 potential customers within a 50 km drive to maintain profitable long-term operations. The casino located on the Cold Lake First Nation reserve near the City of Cold Lake draws its customer base from an inadequate number of potential patrons (n = 24 982), as does the Eagle River casino (n = 34 164) operated by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, which is located 100 km west of the First Nation (Statistics Canada 2006).8 The Stoney Casino and Resort, located between Calgary and Banff on Hwy 1 (TransCanada Highway), boasts a catchment population of 77 000, thereby appearing to operate with an adequate customer base. The casino is located a 30 minute drive from Calgary and a minimum 20 minute drive from Banff and Canmore. But the facilities are not easily visible from the main thoroughfare travelling east (the TransCanada Highway), and the advertising signage in both directions along the roadway fails to clearly offer motorists, who are targeted potential customers, adequate notice of the upcoming casino and hotel.

An important feature of the urban-rural disparity identified above in the host/non-host section becomes evident when the casino employment figures are evaluated. In fiscal 2009/2010, the five First Nation casinos had a total of 1030 employees. Of this number, 800 (77.6 percent) were employed at what would be classified as urban casinos (Enoch and Tsuu T’ina). It is difficult to obtain precise payroll information, although it is known that the Grey Eagle Casino employs 500 for an annual payroll of $15 million and the Stoney Nakoda Casino employs 35 individuals for a payroll of $1.025 million per year. The average wage in both cases was slightly under $30 000 per individual. Precise data was not available for the Enoch Cree Nation, the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, or the Cold Lake First Nations. However, if a similar average wage is assumed, then an estimated projection total payroll is conceivable, as seen in Table 3. Collectively, it is estimated that in fiscal 2009/2010 the five First Nations’ casinos payroll was $31 025 000, of which 77.3 percent is attributable to the two urban casinos. The total number of employees and total payroll fell below initial expectations. Current employee numbers represent 78 percent of initial projections, whereas the $31 025 000 payroll represents 82 percent of original projections (Belanger et al. 2012). The River Cree Casino is the only facility that exceeded expectations. The percentage of employees who are First Nation is also largely below expectations. The River Cree Casino and Resort employs a total of 800 people, 300 at the casino and 500 at the accompanying resort/hotel complex. Collected data indicate that 25 percent of resort employees are First Nations, a total of 125 people, of which an estimated 100 reside at the Enoch Cree Nation (see Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Extrapolating for casino employment, 75 employees (25 percent) would be Aboriginal descent. An estimated 16 percent of the 500 Grey Eagle Casino workers are Aboriginal individuals. The majority of these are from the Tsuu T’ina Nation, residing both on reserve and in Calgary.

Table 3.  Employment in Alberta First Nations casinos
First Nation Casino # First Nation Employees Total Casino Employees Known or Estimated Payroll
 
  1. aEstimated

  2. bDoes not include an additional 500 employees in the hotel resort

Enoch CreeRiver Cree75 (25%)a300b $9 000 000
Tsuu T’inaGrey Eagle80 (16%)a500$15 000 000
AlexisEagle River21 (18%)120 $3 600 000
Cold LakeCasino DeneN/A80 $2 400 000
StoneyStoney Nakoda30 (100%)a30 $1 025 000
TOTAL 2061030$31 025 000

Similar to most casinos, 70 percent of the Eagle River Casino (Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation) staff is full-time and 30 percent part-time. Only 18 percent of the Eagle River Casino employees are Aboriginal. This may be due to the 100 km distance between the reserve community and the reserve casino site, which is located adjacent to Whitecourt. However, the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation does have a bus shuttling employees twice daily to the casino. The percentage of Aboriginal employees in the Casino Dene is unknown. Only the Stoney Nakoda casino has a preponderance of Aboriginal employees, which is estimated to be 100 percent. This example demonstrates that it is unnecessary to hire non-Aboriginal individuals for the majority of casino positions.

Overall, however, if the majority of employees are non-Aboriginal, most of the casino wages then leave the First Nations communities, which is a principal point of concern. Conceding the lack of Cold Lake First Nations data, the four host-First Nations identified draw an estimated $5 321 000 in earnings out of a total payroll of $31 025 000, which is 17.2 percent of the aggregate annual payrolls. Although 84.4 percent of First Nations employee wages is estimated to return to the host-First Nations (i.e., a percentage of First Nation employees live off-reserve), an estimated $25 704 000 in wages annually leaves host-First Nation communities, the majority into the municipal Edmonton and Calgary economies (Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). However, a significant percentage of the five First Nation casino charities do employ First Nations people, with approximately 170 employees, 90 percent (n = 155) of which are Aboriginal. With the exception of the Northern Isga Foundation at the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, information is not available documenting charity full-time versus part-time employment, and the percentage of First Nations employees who were also residents of the local First Nation community. The Northern Isga Foundation (NIF) currently employs 19 First Nations and two non-First Nations individuals (Alexis 2009, 6) with an annual payroll estimated at over $400 000 (Alexis 2009, 3). Using $20 000 as an average wage, it is projected that the total payroll for the First Nations charities is roughly $3.4 million, with the First Nations themselves retaining $3.1 million of these wages.9

In total, in recent years, it is estimated that upwards of 155 (charity casino employees) plus 206 (casino employees) plus 200 resort employees are of Aboriginal heritage, for an estimated total of 561 employees. These positions represent jobs that did not exist prior to the casino and resort openings. Although the prior employment status of these individuals is not known, it can be expected that a portion of these individuals were unemployed or underemployed prior to their casino-related employment. Anecdotally, informal interviews with First Nations officials and community members suggest that many of these people were said to represent the better skilled individuals in the communities who had been employed prior to the casino, thus potentially cannibalizing band administrations and local reserve businesses. More research is required examining these trends.

Finally, the FNGP generally ignores urban Aboriginal peoples (Belanger and Williams 2011). In 2001, the FNGP's ratification year, nearly half of the national population who self-identified as Native lived in urban areas. According to the Alberta government (Alberta 2012), 63 percent of Aboriginal people in Alberta live in major urban areas. The Alberta government and First Nations all the same excluded urban Aboriginal peoples from direct FNDF access, and First Nations have chosen to restrict urban band members’ access to gaming revenues (Belanger 2011a; Williams, Belanger, and Arthur 2011). Despite federal acknowledgement of the need for coordination and collaboration between different levels of government to mitigate the difficulties experienced by urban Aboriginal populations, there remains no discernible indication that “basic issues of jurisdiction and responsibility are being addressed” (Graham and Peters 2002, 18). Urban émigrés are deemed to have voluntarily abdicated their rights to federal programming (Belanger forthcoming), and conventional political orthodoxy presumes that a Native person's “home” cannot be sited in multiple centres (Borrows 2000). With regard to urban Aboriginal band members and the general non-status urban Aboriginal community, the Alberta-First Nations gaming agreement does not dictate how a First Nation is to utilize gaming revenues, saying “dollars distributed from [the FNDF] would be available for economic and community development, addictions programs, education, health and infrastructure projects” (Alberta 2004, 15).

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature review
  5. First Nation's gaming expansion in Alberta
  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

Gambling revenues represent a significant influx of new money for a handful of Alberta's First Nations, in particular for the Tsuu T’ina and Enoch Cree Nations, and all provincial First Nations have variably benefitted. In this article, the first of its kind evaluating a provincial-First Nations revenue distribution agreement, that also assessed the policy's unanticipated impacts, the FNDF has been identified as the origin of the economic variances.

We assert that this revenue distribution model is a symptom of the larger failure to consider the spatial characteristics associated with reserve casino placement, specifically the potentially negative impacts linked with siting casinos on reserves in low population catchments. As a result, a lack of consideration was given to the specific dynamics associated with rural versus urban and northern versus southern development potential. Consequently five First Nations are benefitting far beyond the remaining 40 non-host communities. Furthermore, the rural casinos operated by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, the Cold Lake First Nations, and the Stoney Nakoda Nations are not doing nearly as well as the urban host communities in terms of revenue generation, which impacts all non-host First Nations beneficiaries. The related employment outcomes are also lower. An identified regional disparity exists that has constrained First Nations communities north of Edmonton when compared to their southern counterparts. The smaller northern communities, including many in the Treaty 6 region, must spend FNDF dollars to improve local conditions that their southern First Nations equivalents may spend on economic development and business start ups and for investment purposes. Finally, a host/non-host disparity exists whereby hosts are allocated 81.8 percent of all gambling revenues assigned for First Nations’ use (45 of the 55 percent available). These findings are important beyond the gaming industry discussion, and notably have implications for provincial First Nations economic development in general. Additional work must also be conducted in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario to help situate these findings in comparative perspective.

Comparing the Alberta First Nations situation with their American Indian counterparts, First Nations are not recognized as sovereign over internal economic development. This undermines their ability to work with chosen partners. For instance, rather than simply seeking out the best corporate partner, First Nations need to negotiate an agreement with Alberta First Nations to access prescribed revenue allocations; Alberta has discretion concerning the chosen partner and site managers; and for the simple exercise of allowing reserve casinos’ operations, provincial officials dictated the 30 percent provincial allocation. Unlike south of the 49th parallel, where Indian leaders can choose how they spend their revenues, First Nations are also not afforded the same luxury. Rather, in Alberta they must accept charitable status to gain access to FNDF revenues thus undermining the casinos’ symbolic power as self-directed revenue generators fostering self-determination, which also has the effect of negating federal policies that acknowledge First Nations as more than special interest groups (Belanger and Williams 2012). It is however important to note that First Nations did not formally object to the provincial demand that they register as charities, something First Nations could have rightly identified as an overt challenge to their self-proclaimed sovereignty and Aboriginal right to self-govern. This lack of objection could reflect the urgent need to combat significant local poverty or the First Nations belief that their casinos would grow at a rate similar to US Indian casinos such as Foxwoods or the Mohegan Sun, thus eclipsing concerns about policy inequity. In simple terms, impoverishment and limited economic options may have compelled First Nations to willingly compromise aspects of their sovereignty in return for greater economic stability.

Helping to substantiate this conclusion is the negotiated outcome, which resulted in a provincially advantageous agreement similar to many state-American Indian compacts (Kalt 2002; Cornell 2008). Why Alberta's policy and attendant revenue-distribution formula differs substantially from other provinces, is not known, but to be fair these agreements are unique to each province's economic, social and political setting at the time of their negotiations (Belanger 2006). That in part helps answer why states and provinces refuse to renegotiate what they already deem to be generally well operating policies: it is a time consuming process that will force the agreements’ complete overhaul to reflect new social, political, and economic dynamics. Nevertheless, Alberta's First Nations agreed to the FNGP following little study of existing continental revenue distribution formulas, while provincial officials chose to ignore what was occurring in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba by stripping First Nations of 30 percent of all gaming revenues. When such agreements have been revealed to be lopsided, First Nations and American Indian leaders have little recourse once they’ve been ratified (Light and Rand 2005; Rand 2007; Rausch 2007). Alberta's recent refusal to accede to First Nations demands to revisit the FNDF (Komarnicki 2011; Narine 2011) highlights this. Despite the provincially-imposed restrictions and the 30 percent provincial allocation, roughly three-quarters (77 percent) of Alberta's First Nations chose to ratify the FNGP; and at one point the AGLC was vetting eight separate First Nations casino applications.

Although Alberta and the key negotiating First Nations (Tsuu T’ina and Enoch primarily) agreed to include all First Nations in the FNDF, the resulting uneven distribution of revenues and the policy-driven regional economic disparities, have created a group of have and have-not First Nations. One could argue that this was the desired outcome considering Tsuu T’ina and Enoch's central negotiating position. This conclusion does not stand up to scrutiny when one factors in the reality that provincial and First Nations officials anticipated the construction of more than two provincial First Nations casinos. The FNGP's reserve/urban dichotomy exacerbates this trend by establishing urban First Nations haves and rural Aboriginal have-nots, and this has the potential to drive a wedge between the two communities. And, in addition to shaping “Indian” identity for revenue distribution purposes, it is evident that Alberta has clearly integrated aspects of the federal government's paternalistic approach to interfacing with “Indians” by assigning itself centralized control of First Nations gaming revenues and the final say concerning how they’re spent. Confining First Nations economic development to reserves that were intentionally physically removed from non-Aboriginal society is also troubling—as a federal policy it failed miserably by hindering rather than encouraging reserve development (e.g., Canada 2007; Belanger 2010c; Loxley 2011). Alberta's decision to remain tied to similar place-based regeneration policies fails to concede these past failures while also demonstrating a lack of foresight of what First Nations truly need to prosper.

Concerns about sizeable sums of revenues being directed to state and provincial treasuries have been realized in Alberta where annually $76 million is stripped from First Nations use. To add insult to injury, of the annual $104 million allocated to the FNDF, five First Nations have access to roughly $78 million whereas 40 First Nations divvy up the remaining $26 million. While there has been a noticeable increase in infrastructure in two of the host communities, development remains staggered in the 43 other First Nations, since three of those are actually hosts. The resulting employment outcomes are also less than expected, and concentrated in communities nearby large municipalities that are substantially benefitting from First Nations reserve casino operations. Further, according to a recent Statistics Canada report, First Nations unemployment grew during this period of casino openings (Zietsma 2010; Belanger and Williams 2012). Similar to the American studies, the majority of jobs obtained by First Nations are low pay and high turnover.

Superficially, most signs point to the fact that positive outcomes outweigh the negatives in the Alberta First Nations gaming industry. But as the above analysis demonstrates, success must now be gauged according to more than simply measuring aggregate revenues. Providing an improved understanding of how the FNGP's spatial characteristics influences First Nations socio-economic outcomes offers greater context and a better-quality policy overview to emerge. The inattention paid at the policy formulation stage has led to regional disparities that are only benefitting a small number of communities. Currently, the FNGP privileges five First Nation communities’ development needs, and two in this grouping access significantly higher revenues and casino-related benefits such as improved local employment opportunities than the remaining three. Further, the FNGP, by its cursory approach to policy-making, has ignored the needs of the province's remaining First Nations that are notably impeded by their geographic displacement. An altered policy certainly at this point warrants consideration, which might thereby lead to an acceptable and more equitable revenue distribution model that takes into consideration existing regional disparities for the benefit of all provincial First Nations.

Footnotes
  • 1

    The term First Nation is used here to denote a reserve community, or band. The phrase Aboriginal people indicates any one of the three legally defined culture groups that form what is known as Aboriginal peoples in Canada (Métis, Inuit, and Indian) and who self-identify as such. The term Indian, as used in legislation or policy, will also appear in discussions concerning such legislation or policy. The term Indigenous here does not represent a legal category. Rather, it is used to describe the descendants of groups in a territory at the time when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origin arrived there, groups that have almost preserved intact the customs and traditions of their ancestors similar to those characterized as Indigenous, and those that have been placed under a state structure which incorporates national, social, and cultural characteristics distinct from their own.

  • 2

    The majority of the revenues generated are drawn from slot machine revenues. Unfortunately, data is not available detailing First Nation table games revenues.

  • 3

    In mainstream casinos, net revenue after expenses from table games is pooled and distributed to participating charities on a quarterly basis; unfortunately First Nation table games data is unavailable at this point.

  • 4

    Data for this paragraph gleaned from Belanger 2011a, 2010a.

  • 5

    Interviews with several Alberta cabinet insiders were conducted for a larger project from which this discussion is derived. The interviewers were informed, based on informant anonymity, that the Premier's office and the key officials guiding the provincial gaming discussion were aware of the events unfolding in Ontario related to the Ontario Rama revenue distribution difficulties. See Williams, Belanger, and Arthur (2011).

  • 6

    Note that an estimated 13 percent of charity revenues remain undistributed.

  • 7

    The Kainai Nation in southern Alberta as of this writing is seeking a consultancy team to pursue building a casino in or nearby Calgary. This case study will arguably determine the province's willingness to expansively interpret the FNGP for the benefit of First Nations.

  • 8

    These population totals were produced using Statistics Canada Community Profiles from the 2006 Census (Statistics Canada 2006). A 50 km radius was tabulated from the casino site, then the communities located within that radius were identified and an aggregate population produced.

  • 9

    Interviews were conducted with numerous band council members and casino employees as part of a larger socio-economic analysis of Alberta's gambling industry. The $20 000 average wage was derived from these discussions, as was the final aggregate charity employee total.

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  6. First Nations Gaming Policy structure
  7. Evaluating First Nation gaming success in Alberta
  8. Assessing the FNGP's spatial characteristics in Alberta
  9. Conclusion
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