By Bill Mah, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - The River Cree Resort and Casino is now fully owned by the Enoch Cree Nation and River Cree Enterprises LP.
The First Nation and its business entity announced Thursday they have acquired sole ownership after completing a deal to purchase the minority interest held by Las Vegas-based casino operator, Paragon Gaming.
To finance the transaction, River Cree Enterprises said it became the first Canadian First Nation-owned company to issue cross-border bonds. The bonds were purchased by institutional investors in Canada and the United States. About $245 million in total was raised through the bond issue and bank loans.
When the casino and resort opened in 2006 on Enoch Cree reserve land just west of Edmonton, the original partnership called for Paragon to co-own it for 25 years.
“The success of the resort has allowed us to acquire Paragon’s minority interest after only seven years of operation,” said Robert Morin, president of River Cree Enterprises. “With sole ownership, we are now better able to further develop our business and achieve our vision of a pre-eminent gaming, entertainment and tourist attraction.”
Enoch Chief Ronald Morin said owning River Cree outright is the realization of a dream.
“With this ownership, Enoch will now have a greater sense of autonomy and will be able to expand its capacity to do more great projects, as well as improve Enoch members’ overall quality of life.
The First Nation is looking at commercial development projects on and off the reserve, Chief Morin said.
Buying the business outright also gives the First Nation greater voice in running it.
“Even though we were a majority shareholder and set in place board members from Enoch … we were a minority in terms of say on the property within the limited partnership,” Chief Morin said.
The casino will be managed by Sonco Gaming Co., a Canadian casino operator. River Cree Enterprises said the deal does not affect employees or resort operations, which include twin rinks, restaurants and a Marriott hotel.
River Cree, which is exempt from smoking bans, saw adjusted revenue of almost $118 million in 2012, up 23 per cent over the previous five years, according to Bloomberg, which cited information from credit-rating company DBRS Ltd.
River Cree also benefits from access to the province’s First Nations Development Fund, which funnels a portion of the government’s take of gambling proceeds back to the company, which it uses to repay debt.
Robert Morin said there was a slight increase in 2013 in a stable market. “We go as the Alberta economy goes,” he said.
“We’re no different than any of the other First Nation casinos. We depend on the clients and customers to come visit us and right now, everybody’s doing fairly well.”
With files from Bloomberg