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First Nations lobby Ottawa for a bigger cut of the multibillion-dollar gambling business

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First Nations leaders want to carve out a bigger slice of Canada’s multibillion-dollar gambling pie, and they are asking the Liberal government to change the Criminal Code to pave the way for more Indigenous-owned casinos.

While about 16 First Nations casinos are already operating in Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the group that represents more than 600 chiefs from across the country, hopes to significantly boost that number by removing parts of the Criminal Code that have largely kept Indigenous peoples on the margins of the gaming industry.

Section 207 of the code essentially prohibits casinos on Indigenous lands unless they are sanctioned by the province. First Nations leaders want to build more casinos, seeing the gambling industry as a road to prosperity for impoverished communities with few natural resources.

« It’s all about recognizing and respecting First Nations jurisdiction. We’re pushing. We have to make this one of the items on all party platforms: respecting First Nations jurisdiction. It’s about creating really good paying jobs for all people, not just First Nations peoples — and it’s another avenue to creating economic stability, » Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, ​said in an interview with CBC News.

« Gaming has a huge impact on the economy. There is only one economy, and First Nations people have got to be part of that economy in a meaningful and substantive way, and this is just one of the pieces in the puzzle. Looking at Criminal Code amendments just makes good economic sense. »

But a spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti said the government is not considering such a  repeal « at this time. »

Bellegarde is pushing the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to make it easier for First Nations to build casinos. But the government says it ‘is not considering a repeal at this time.’ (CBC)

A 1985 agreement between Ottawa and the provinces devolved much of the regulatory authority over gambling operations to provincial governments. First Nations depend on the provinces to issue licences so any sort of gaming establishment can operate legally under federal law.

And, because gambling has the potential to be so lucrative, the provinces have been reluctant to cede jurisdiction for fear new First Nations properties could cannibalize existing facilities. A tweak to federal law could give Indigenous peoples a leg up in their dealings with the provinces.

Provincially owned gaming parlours have been a tremendous boon to government coffers. In Ontario alone, casinos generate about $1 billion a year in revenue.

Casino Rama, a casino and resort on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation in Orillia, Ont., is jointly owned by the band and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. It is one of largest Indigenous-owned casinos in Canada. (CBC)

In Manitoba, the group that represents chiefs is locked in a legal battle with the province over the right to build a casino in downtown Winnipeg.

Two Crown-owned casinos in that city have flourished while provincial leaders have restricted First Nations casinos to more isolated, rural regions where returns are modest.

Even in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the bulk of the country’s First Nations-owned casinos are located, operators must hand over a significant portion of their profits to the provincial governments as a condition of their licences.

‘There may be more negatives’

This arrangement has prompted one Indigenous gaming expert to equate the current financial relationship with usury.

« It’s a usury fee in many ways. The provinces essentially said, ‘If you want casinos, you’re going to have to pay.’ It’s a fee for operations that’s stripping millions and millions from the communities that the gaming program was initially designed to help, » Yale Belanger, a professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, said in an interview.

« It’s exploitative. »

Belanger said more gaming opportunities would be financial shot in the arm for some Indigenous communities — especially urban reserves — but he warned it is likely these operations are not « the economic panacea that First Nations leaders are anticipating that they could be become. »

« At the end of the day there may be more negatives confronting First Nations who choose to open casinos — based on social and political tensions — than what they’ll realize economically by doing so, » Belanger said.

An expansion of gaming could lead to a proliferation of gambling addictions among vulnerable and already impoverished people, for example.

Regardless, Bellegarde wants Ottawa to recognize that First Nations peoples have the right to regulate what happens on their lands — and that right should naturally extend to economic development efforts like building casinos.

Bellegarde hopes First Nations across the country can replicate the financial success of Indigenous casinos in his home province, Saskatchewan, where annual profits routinely exceed $80 million a year and up to 2,000 people have regular employment.

In the last 10 years, the six casinos run by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority have made nearly $1 billion in profits. Half of those funds have been distributed to individual Indigenous communities. The remaining funds go to the province and local economic development agencies.

The Dakota Dunes Casino is located on land belonging to the Whitecap Dakota First Nation south of Saskatoon. The six First Nations-owned casinos in Saskatchewan have generated nearly $1 billion in profits for First Nations communities and the province in the last decade. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC)

But a spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti said the government does not support the legislative changes Bellegarde is seeking.

« With respect to Section 207 of the Criminal Code, our government is not considering a repeal at this time; however, our government will continue to engage with Indigenous partners on how to address their concerns and support economic opportunities, » Célia Canon said in a statement.

U.S. Indigenous gaming is big business

The Indigenous gaming industry in Canada lags significantly behind operations in the U.S. American Indian groups have built gaming empires that rival mainstream operators like Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts.

A series of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s gave tribal governments significant leeway to pursue economic development, including building and operating casinos.

Congress has since sought to regulate that activity through the National Indian Gaming Commission, but gaming is pervasive on reservations.

The Foxwoods Resorts Casino, the largest in the U.S., rises over the landscape in Ledyard, Conn. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation owns the casino. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

The industry has exploded since the early days of the Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut — not far from New York and Boston — which introduced Vegas-style table games like blackjack and roulette in the 1990s.

There are 460 gambling operations run by 240 tribes generating annual revenue of $27 billion, according to data from the National Indian Gaming Commission.

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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