Wauzhushk Onigum Loses Casino Court Fight

**UPDATE** November 15, 2019

A petition was circulated over the past week in opposition of the proposed location at the old Abitibi mill site. That petition was presented to city council on Nov. 12, with 700 names on it. The project, which was originally to be completed in early 2020, has since been delayed.


Wauzhushk Onigum Nation has lost its battle to have its grievances heard in the Ontario Superior Court regarding its fight to prevent Gateway’s Kenora casino project.

The tribe could appeal the decision. However, as it stands, Gateway Casinos will be able to move forward building Playtime Casino Kenora per its long-term, multi-casino deal with the Ontario Lotteries and Gaming Corporation (OLC).

No Judicial Review

On June 6,  Ontario’s Superior Court issued its decision. It was not publicised for nearly two weeks afterward though, per tbnewswatch.com.

Wauzhushk Onigum Nation had applied for a judicial review of the OLG’s decision to allow Gateway Casinos and Entertainment to build a casino in Kenora, but not on tribal land. It was a part of a bundle of projects awarded to the casino corporation by OLG after a lengthy bidding process.

A key findings by the court was that the tribal nation had waited too long to file its motion. The OLG initially approved the Kenora casino project back in 2012. The tribe had the chance to challenge the decision at that time. Instead, it decided to participate in the bidding process for the casino, which the tribe lost in the end.

According to court documents, Wauzhushk Onigum Nation lost their bid, tried to negotiate with Gateway Casinos after it won the contract, and even publicly congratulated them. The tribe had entered into a partnership with Leaf Entertainment for 20% interest in the casino. However, Leaf ultimately lost during the bidding process to Gateway.

The tribe then approached Gateway in 2017 to discuss a revenue-sharing agreement to build Playtime Casino Kenora on tribal land. When Gateway refused, the legal case began. The judges wrote:

“In summary, there has been an excessive delay. WON (Wauzhushk Onigum Nation) has not provided a reasonable explanation for the delay, and there is prejudice to the respondents (Gateway, the province and OLG) and the public interest. This is not a case where the interests of justice weigh against a dismissal for delay.”

Hopes Dashed

WON had filed its case in the Superior Court on the basis of three decisions they felt were unfair. First was the public bidding process for Kenora casino and the decision to bundle it with other gaming zones. That process led to the second objection. This was the invitation of large companies to come in and easily outbid smaller companies like Leaf. Thirdly, the tribe objected to the 20-year agreement with Gateway.

“Ontario and OLG had all the power and wielded it to deny us,” asserted the tribe’s attorney.

When the judges ruled on the case, however, they found that there was no denial of WON’s right to fairly participate in the process. In addition, the court found that OLG did properly give bonus points for First Nation-inclusive bids and consulted with First Nation throughout the process.

The decision from the court “grossly disappointed” the tribe. Per WON’s attorney, Kate Kempton, the legal system “failed justice for First Nations in this instance.” As a result, an appeal is still possible.

Kenora Casino Project Cleared to Move Forward

Gateway Casinos had been waiting for the court’s decision before making any concrete decisions as to the location and scope of the Kenora casino. That obstacle has now been removed.

Legally, Gateway can now decide where to build its proposed Playtime Casino Kenora. The city council gave its approval via a vote seven years prior, and that approval still stands.

The project is likely to cost upwards of $20 million by the end of it. Gateway had hoped that it could open a new casino in Kenora by 2020. That’s unlikely before 2012, though. After all, a location has yet to be chosen.

Meanwhile, the area has been without a full-fledged casino for about 15 years. The Golden Eagle Casino was shut down in 2004 for license violations.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen


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