Poverty and Plenty: A tale of two reserves
Nova Scotians feed an estimated nearly $250 million a year into VLTs on First Nations communities in Nova Scotia, yielding profits of $50 million. The money comes largely from non-aboriginal people who go to the reserves because they are open longer, allow smoking or because players think the machines pay out more (they don’t). The machines have helped Membertou and Millbrook First Nations achieve an impressive economic renaissance, but there’s a darker side as well, in the form of gambling addictions that occur five times as often on reserves as in other communities and a debilitating blow delivered to Nova Scotia’s attempts to reign in VLTs.
By King’s Investigative Workshop
When you drive onto the Membertou First Nation in the south end of Sydney, Nova Scotia, it’s hard not to notice all of the nearly new buildings. A large convention centre looms to the left, and a little farther ahead, a three-story monolith with a huge sign announcing it as the “Membertou Entertainment Centre.”
Unlike on most reserves in Canada, there’s a smell of money here.
In the shadow of the convention and entertainment centres are three squat structures, two of them separated by a small parking lot, the third on the other side of an intersection. Each one of these curious-looking buildings has a sign reading, “Membertou Gaming Commission.”
While not as impressive as the big buildings, these are where much of the money comes from. They are, in effect, mini-casinos, each filled with the video lottery terminals that have fueled Membertou’s economic miracle. There are also VLTs in the entertainment complex and the nearby Membertou Market convenience store. The machines bring in more than $10 million dollars a year here. It’s the bright side of native gaming.