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Bear Claw Casino Opens At White Bear

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      DECEMBER 1996      v26 n01 p12  
Bear Claw Casino logo Saskatchewan's newest casino recently opened its doors on the White Bear reserve. On November 12, 1996, dignitaries gathered to commemorate the grand opening of the Bear Claw Casino with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the early afternoon. Attending officials included E. Dutch Lerat, Chief Executive Officer of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Blaine Favel, White Bear First Nation Chief Brian Standingready and former White Bear First Nation Chief Bernie Shepherd.

Described as the "sparkplug" in bringing casino development to the forefront, Shepherd was one of the key players in establishing the Bear Claw Casino. In his remarks, Shepherd acknowledged the role of Elders and members of the White Bear First Nation in the development of the casino, "They were the real driving force behind having a casino here." He went on to say, "The bottom line is unemployment on our reserve. If you look around, I think the proudest moment we're looking at here is all these people in the white shirts that are working today. That's what it's all about."

The Bear Claw Casino currently employs 100 people and provided additional jobs during the construction of the 15,000 square foot facility. Ancillary employment is provided through the restaurant, gift shop and the eventual operation of a 36-room hotel adjoining the casino that is currently under construction.

The casino features 53 slot machines, 67 video lottery terminals, eight blackjack tables, a poker table, a roulette wheel and a big wheel. The works of local artists are highlighted throughout the casino as well as a large replica of a white bear on its hind legs located in the lobby.

The Bear Claw Casino is the first casino in Canada to be located on reserve land. However, it is, in fact, the second time that the White Bear First Nation has established a casino on its reserve. White Bear's first attempt at an on-reserve casino came in January 1993. At that time, legislation prohibited on-reserve casinos and, in March 1993, the RCMP stormed the facility and closed its doors.

After much negotiation, the FSIN and the provincial government entered into an agreement on gaming in November of 1995. Under the terms of the agreement, SIGA could establish four casinos anywhere within the province.

In his remarks at the opening, Dutch Lerat, the CEO of SIGA, referred to White Bear's groundbreaking attempt stating, "We want to ... acknowledge that 1-2 punch that kick-started gaming in Saskatchewan and in Canada."

The first two SIGA casinos, the North Battleford Gold Eagle Casino and the Prince Albert Northern Lights Casino, opened their doors in March 1996. Yorkton's Painted Hand Casino is expected to open its doors later this month.