SCUGOG: The Great Blue Heron Casino on Scugog Island will officially shift from a charity casino format to a commercial business under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Under the deal, reached by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and OLG in July, the casino will now be part of the OLG’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Gaming Bundle, which includes the casinos in Woodbine and Ajax. Under direction from the provincial government, the OLG rolled out a modernization strategy in 2013, and established gaming zones where service providers will be able to operate a casino business.
With the Great Blue Heron now a part of that strategy, OLG will be able to select a service provider, through a bidding process, to manage the GTA bundle. A provider is expected to be chosen by 2018.
The Scugog Island First Nation had held a vote on the matter, with the deal seeing unanimous support from the 54 per cent of eligible voters who took part.
“The members saw the benefits of becoming part of the modernization of gaming in the province,” Chief Kelly LaRocca told The Standard. “Our community saw significant levels of investment that modernization would attract into our community. The benefits will be significant, and will be enjoyed by our people for many years to come.”
Chief LaRocca also wanted to stress that charitable donations from the First Nation won’t stop because of the shift.
“We intend to continue the charitable giving that we have done in the past. Responsibility for that will fall to a committee, that has been struck by our First Nation Council through the support of our community,” the Chief said. “We intend to continue to be active, engaged, and positive citizens of the community in which we live.”
The new committee will replace the Baagwating Community Association, the current charitable arm of the Mississaugas. In the past, the casino has operated with OLG operating the slot machines and the First Nation being in charge of the table games.
Chief LaRocca said this deal was necessary for the future success of the casino.
“Without being a part of the GTA bundle, [the casino] was facing the threat of cannibalization from surrounding gaming expansion,” she said.
The Chief added, this deal allows them to expand, preserve what they have built and continue to be a top employer in the area. According to the Mississaugas, the casino provides over 1,100 local jobs and also “contributes more than $236 million to the Regional economy.”
According to Chief LaRocca, the jobs and benefits of all employees will continue, “under the transition to the new gaming model.”
The Mississaugas will also continue to be a landlord for the casino.
The First Nation and OLG had been in negotiations since 2013.