EDMONTON – Enoch Cree Nation has made a big move, acquiring full ownership of the River Cree Resort and Casino.
“With this ownership, Enoch will now have a greater sense of autonomy, and will be able to expand its capacity to do many more great projects as well as improve Enoch members’ overall quality of life,” said Enoch chief Ronald Morin.
When River Cree opened in 2006, Enoch partnered with Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming for what was supposed to be a period of 25 years.
But Enoch has been able to buy Paragon’s interest and assume full ownership of what is considered by some to be one of the most significant First Nation economic development projects in the country.
“It’s the first one in Canada, at this point, on this level,” said Yale Belanger, an associate professor of Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge. “It’s eclipsed what Rama casino out in Ontario is producing at this point in time.”
Belanger, who has authored a book called First Nations Gaming in Canada, believes Enoch was able to buy Paragon Gaming out because the First Nation demonstrated the ability to operate the casino effectively, and manage the revenue well.
“They have built new housing, they’re economically much more forceful. Politically, they’re much more stable.”
He added that the millions of dollars Enoch was paying out to the operator each year will now be able to remain within the community.
“So they’re much more financially solvent and able to attack social and economic issues from their own perspective.”
Twenty-two per cent of employees currently working at the facility are from the Enoch First Nation, according to the casino and resort’s president. He believes with Enoch’s new full ownership, there’s potential to increase that number over the next three to five years; the current staff will not be affected.
“It’s a change in company titles and goes from being a partnership managed by Paragon to now being controlled by the First Nation entities,” Morin said.
“It’s still a bit of a dream come true, and we certainly appreciate the opportunity.”
The terms of the deal have not been released.
With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News