A Canadian newspaper, The Saskatoon StarPhoenix, reported that the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) had signed a memorandum of understanding with a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe to manage at least one casino in Taiwan. According to the original story, the Saskatchewan’s First Nations had made the casino deal during a recent trade trip which included major deals that would have Taiwanese companies investing in the northeast oilsands.
Unfortunately, that story was at best premature according to a press release put out by SIGA later in the day. Zane Hansen, the CEO of SIGA, stated that the organization had “not signed a memorandum of understanding” and furthermore was not “involved in any formal discussions.” Hansen said the story was a miscommunication by Ken Thomas, the reported broker of the deal.
“Mr. Thomas does not represent the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority nor does he speak on behalf of the corporation. Our company is focused on growing and developing in Saskatchewan,” Hansen declared in his statement.
Ken Thomas is a Saskatoon First Nations consultant who has frequently traveled to Taiwan over the past 15 years in facilitating trade agreements between the First Nations and Taiwanese companies. Since he was one of the negotiators of the original deal that created SIGA back in 1996 and has continued to consult with them since, Thomas felt it was appropriate for him to sign the memorandum of understanding and bring it back to SIGA. He feels that SIGA could be turning its nose up at an incredible opportunity.
Taiwan’s new president has expressed his receptiveness to casinos which has brought interest from many in the gambling industry. One Las Vegas company, the Sands, has already signed an agreement to manage a major casino on Penghu Island. The Thao Tribe wants the First Nations to run one casino on Kinmen Island and later another at Sun Moon Lake. The 25 year deal offers SIGA up to a 30 percent cut of the potential annual revenue which is estimated to be about $1 billion dollars. This offers a potential share of $600 million dollars a year for First Nations.
Thomas says he felt the First Nations’ experience in managing casinos makes them the first choice for operating in Taiwan, where the Thao Tribe aborignes are hestitant to become involved with Las Vegas-based gambling concerns for fear that they would take over the casinos. With SIGA already operating five casinos in Saskatchewan, Thomas felt that “this is expertise SIGA already possesses.”
The Thao Tribe is currently waiting for approval for their casino-permit applications. Thomas is set to return to Taiwan with details of any arrangement he makes in November. Although he hopes to have the deal with SIGA all ironed out, he will will take the MOU to other concerns in both Canada and the United States if SIGA doesn’t want it but he says he will give the organization time “to reconsider and present the offer to the province’s First Nations chiefs and other stakeholders.” He went on to say, “but I can’t hold it for them forever.”