By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at expanding the gambling industry for the first time in years, and offering more alcohol through government-run retail stores.
The NDP government, elected in October, revamped the board at Crown-owned Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries on Tuesday. New members include Jeff Traeger, president of a local United Food and Commercial Workers union, who will serve as chair.
The government also issued a mandate letter to the board that says a pause on new gambling facilities, put in place by the former Progressive Conservative government in 2018, will be lifted. Reconciliation with Indigenous people is to be part of the plan.
“Work collaboratively with stakeholders to lift the pause on gaming expansion in a targeted fashion to include supporting economic reconciliation and local economic development while maintaining (the Crown corporation’s) commitment to supporting the communities they serve,” Glen Simard, the minister responsible for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, wrote.
First Nations leaders were upset a decade ago when the Shark Club, a gambling centre with slot machines, table games and more, operated by True North Sports and Entertainment, opened in downtown Winnipeg.
First Nations groups had previously sought to open a casino in Winnipeg but were rebuffed by the government of the day, which said the Winnipeg market was already full with two government-run casinos in outlying neighbourhoods.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs later filed a lawsuit against the government, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for what it says was lost revenue. The statement of claim has not been tested in court.
In an interview, Simard said it is too early to say whether a First Nations casino in Winnipeg is part of the plans.
“The (board) will collaborate with stakeholders, of which Indigenous communities are (part).”
The mandate letter also makes clear that the NDP government will focus on expanding alcohol sales at government-run stores instead of allowing more private outlets into the market.
The Crown corporation’s board is to “responsibly expand public liquor retail stores,” the letter states, including so-called express outlets that are government-run but located inside some large grocery stores.
The former Tory government had promised to offer more private alcohol sales. It put forward a bill that would have launched a pilot project involving alcohol in grocery or corner stores. But the NDP, then in Opposition, prevented the bill from passing before the election.
Manitoba currently has a mix of private and public alcohol sales.
In urban areas, government liquor stores sell a full array of alcohol products, while private stand-alone beer vendors and wine stores offer a limited range.
In many rural and northern communities, private vendors sell a full range of products including beer, wine and hard liquor.