The Little Pine First Nation's proposal to bring a casino to Estevan has generated a lot of debate, and a public meeting on April 15 at the Royal Canadian Legion offered insight into the project.
Nearly 100 people attended the session, which was hosted by the Estevan Chamber of Commerce. Not only did they learn more about the project, but they were able to ask questions to Little Pine representatives.
Chamber executive director Michel Cyrenne was pleased with the meeting and the attitude shown by those in attendance.
Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis discussing Little Pine's history, philosophy, business climate, and reasons for choosing the Estevan area as a site for a casino. CEO Evan Schemenauer explained the specifics behind their business plan.
"They spoke about the specifics of the gambling side – what they would have in the casino," said Cyrenne. "They talked about a sports book, and they gave a rundown of why they want to do this exclusive of SIGA (the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority), and what they thought were the benefits were of working independently."
They also addressed the concerns that people have regarding addictions, which is typically one of the biggest drawbacks of a casino.
The overall business plan includes more than a casino and hotel, they said. They have started a feasibility study on whether a convention centre would be included in the project.
Little Pine also has an agreement with Petro Canada to construct a gas station as part of the project, and they're looking at a housing development that would include a 200-unit apartment building.
"For the most part, this would be on (First Nations) reserve land (that they would purchase)," said Cyrenne. "The housing development would not necessarily be on reserve land."
They have identified a location that they view as ideal, but they didn't divulge the site, other than it would be adjacent to Highway 39, and it would be within Estevan's city limits.
Little Pine has started work on a casino project in the Lloydminster area that would occupy 18 acres of land. Cyrenne said they need 15 to 20 acres for the Estevan development.
There is also a community giving element to Little Pine's proposal in Estevan that would include a community development corporation.
"A specific percentage of their profits would be dedicated to this corporation," said Cyrenne. "They would have representatives from Little Pine … and the local community on this corporation, and they would receive applications from community members, the City, the RM or various organizations throughout the community who could apply for funds."
Nearly a dozen questions were asked from local residents during a question and answer period. Most were seeking clarification from Semaganis or Schemenauer. A few people brought up addictions and other social issues.
A lot of people stayed around after the meeting to speak to the chief and the CEO, Cyrenne said.
Cyrenne admitted he was surprised with the atmosphere of the meeting.
"It was an open house, where people can come and ask questions, so you expect that the majority of the people that are coming are going to have a negative issue that they want to ask about or inquire about," said Cyrenne.
And while there were some detractors in the crowd, the atmosphere towards the project was largely positive.
Little Pine still needs to complete a feasibility study for the casino proposal. And since they're not going through SIGA, they need approval from the provincial government. It will be some time – likely at least a couple of years – before a ground-breaking could occur, Cyrenne said.
Public banter about the casino started earlier this year, when Mayor Roy Ludwig revealed that Estevan had been approached by Little Pine representatives about the casino project.
A non-binding question, asking people whether they support the casino proposal, will be on the ballot for the April 23 civic by-election in Estevan.