Great Canadian Entertainment’s proposed “Vegas-style” casino in Toronto sparks outrage from a First Nation

Just days after Great Canadian Entertainment (GCE) announced its new CAD 1 billion ($725 million) entertainment resort in Toronto, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) denounced the provincial government’s decision to give its approval to the project.

As MSIFN prepares to mediate in the coming months its disputes with the government over the government’s expansion of gaming in the Great Toronto Area (GTA), the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and GCE have instead announced another expansion of GTA gaming when their mega-casino at Woodbine opens in Toronto this summer,” the First Nation said in a statement.

The First Nation expressed outrage on Friday at the “disrespect” shown by the OLG and Great Canadian Entertainment for introducing the Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto amid ongoing mediation efforts. 

GCE is the operator of many Ontario government casinos, including Casino Woodbine in Toronto and the Great Blue Heron Casino at MSIFN. In 2016, the MSIFN, which owns the Great Blue Heron Casino in Port Perry, entered into agreements with the provincial government as part of Ontario’s modernization scheme. 

The agreements were meant to ensure that the Great Blue Heron Casino would operate in a “comparative manner” to other government casinos in the GTA, note the Mississaugas of Scugog Island. They also were meant to ensure that revenue would be provided to the MSIFN to support the development and other services for the First Nation, including access to clean drinking water. 

Kelly LaRocca, MSIFN’s Chief, said: “We entered into our agreements with OLG and the government with a shared understanding that OLG and the government would act in good faith and accordance with their Honour of the Crown obligations, and in particular their contractual obligations set out in the agreements.”

“Once again, the government is acting without any engagement with MSIFN and is acting to disadvantage the Great Blue Heron Casino at MSIFN,” she added.

LaRocca said that the MSIFN has been engaging with the government, OLG, and GCE for several years and has finally reached the point of entering mediation “in the coming months.” 

“Once again, however, the Ford government chooses to implement its decisions and ask questions later,” she added. “It’s utter disregard for our First Nation and the Honour of the Crown. We continue to focus our good faith efforts on the mediation and will brace for whatever comes next.” 

Kelly LaRocca, MSIFN's Chief

For many centuries, the MSIFN have lived on the shores of Lake Scugog, north of what is now referred to as the community of Port Perry. Due to the success of the Great Blue Heron Casino, the MSIFN have been able to provide their community, as well as the Durham region, “with thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars in charitable donations to community organizations throughout the region,” the First Nation said.

Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto, to be located at the intersection of Highways 401 and 427, will be located on a 33-acre footprint adjacent to the Woodbine racetrack. According to Great Canadian Entertainment, it will feature a “modern Vegas-style casino,” integrated 400-room hotel, 5,000-seat live entertainment venue and multiple on-site dining options.

The existing Casino Woodbine will continue to operate with no interruption until Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto opens. Meanwhile, mediation between the Ontario government and MSIFN regarding gaming issues is scheduled to commence this summer.