Aboriginal gaming 4/6
But not everyone is so sure that the machines have this good side.
The secrecy surrounding aboriginal gaming in Nova Scotia makes it difficult to determine how VLT revenues are being spent by bands. Even the province doesn’t do any proactive audits, instead relying on audited gaming financial statements the bands submit each year.
Even band members, such as Michael Paul, can have trouble getting information. The old Alcohol and Gaming Authority recommended in its report for 1996-1997 that First Nations “be encouraged to provide annual public reports of gaming activities on their lands.” But only sporadic reporting has taken place.
McDonald says VLT revenues for Shubenacadie currently total about $900,000. But Paul has never seen any numbers.
“If (VLTs) were out there to generate revenue and it was improving the quality of life on the reserve, then don’t you think somebody out there would be showing you numbers? You know, as a band member and a community member, I haven’t seen anything that came from those gaming machines since I’ve been on this reserve (more than 20 years).”
Despite more than half a dozen attempts at contact, the chief of Shubencadie First Nation, Jerry Sack, could not be reached for comment.
Most of the money generated from VLTs in First Nations communities goes directly to the bands, although the Atlantic Lottery Corporation collects an administration fee per machine. The machines are part of the same ALC network as those in bars, clubs and legions.
Sharing the money
Some reserve machines are in private businesses, and those revenues are shared between the business and the band, as is the case with Shubenacadie First Nation, says McDonald, who was chief from 2006 to 2009. Others are in band-run businesses.
Gaming revenue is intended to bolster community development, but that has a wide definition, says Nancy McInnis Leek, a trade advisor for the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs who negotiates the agreements for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
McInnis Leek is the only provincial official directly overseeing an industry that one can estimate to be worth close to $250 million in wagers (this assumes the same ratio of revenues to wagers as exists in the rest of the province—the actual wagers on reserves are kept secret). VLTs operated on reserves within Nova Scotia’s cities generate almost all the net profit. “Particularly in the two bands that are in the (major) urban areas, (VLTs have) a fairly steady clientele,” says McInnis Leek.
“A lot of them use it for programs that are not funded through Indian and Northern Affairs. They use it to supplement health care, youth programs, community service programs. Also, where they can use it as revenue to help them with economic development, they may use it as seed money to bring business in.”