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B.C. gives $74M to make up for Indigenous casino, lottery losses

COVID-19 pandemic sank revenues after sharing agreement
St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino was built incorporating the former St. Eugene residential school. (Cranbrook Townsman photo)

The B.C. government signed a reconciliation deal with Indigenous people in 2017 to provide seven per cent of the B.C. Lottery Corporation’s revenues, only to see the COVID-19 pandemic close casinos and cause revenues to drop by 80 per cent in 2020.

Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin announced Thursday that the province will make up that shortfall with a one-time grant of $74 million, to restore what was intended to be consistent funds to help Indigenous communities provide community services. He said recent flooding and forest fires have also hit Indigenous communities harder than most places, and the drop due to the pandemic was calculated to be $74 million less than was expected when the sharing agreement was signed.

“Through this grant, we are keeping our promise to support First Nations in delivering on the priorities and services they have identified, such as new housing, community youth centres, wildfire protection and important language programs,” Rankin said April 21.

The revenue sharing agreement is in place for 25 years, and revenues from lotteries and casinos have rebounded as the restrictions of the pandemic have lifted. From 2019 to 2021, the seven-per-cent share still amounted to $123 million.

The lottery corporation revenues are administered by the B.C. First Nations Gaming Commission, co-chaired by Ktunaxa Nation Council executive Kathryn Teneese and Judith Sayers, former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation at Port Alberni.

The Ktunaxa Nation had a leading role in the development of the revenue sharing arrangement, having converted the former St. Eugene residental school in its Kootenay territory into a successful golf resort with a casino.

“This grant will ensure that communities can continue to plan and implement their priorities for the coming year and beyond,” Teneese said.

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