How much does the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) model stand out as an online-gaming exemplar in Canada? A lot, as it turns out.
Patricia Cook, vice president, corporate affairs, SIGA, and Desiree Gervais, vice president, human resources, SIGA, hosted a panel discussion at the Canadian Gaming Summit at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this past week.
SIGA, which launched in 1996, operates seven brick-and-mortar casinos in the province and now the online-gaming website PlayNow.com, launched last November; it’s the only legally operated online-gaming and sports-betting site in Saskatchewan. SIGA is a non-profit organization, with all net income flowing back to First Nations.
SIGA, collectively owned by the 74 First Nations in the province, is a model for a successful First Nations gaming model in Canada. At the summit last week, SBC awarded SIGA the First Nations Canadian Gaming Innovation Award. Their mandate is to create employment for First Nations people and support First Nations economic development, all while returning earnings to the owners.
“We don’t tell our story well enough,” Cook said. “We’ve developed into a very capable casino operator and demonstrated an ability to help small, mid-size, and larger regional casino markets as good or better than any other operator in Canada.”
Added Gervais, “SIGA made the pitch that we were the right organization and in the best position to launch the first legal igaming platform in the province, with our over 20 years of experience and our strong land-based footprint of seven casinos.”
Since the launch, Playnow.com has earned $8 million in net income and is on track for $16.8 million for this year, with more than 17,000 accounts. Saskatchewan has an active gray market, so their focus is continuing to push into it.
Over the past year (through March 31), overall across the province, SIGA generated $126 million in net income from $292 million in revenue, a record for SIGA, revenue up $96 million over the prior year. SIGA has close to 1,400 employees.
Cook says they worked with several provinces to develop their responsible gaming program: BCLC, Manitoba Lottery Corporation, and the Responsible Gaming Council.
Each SIGA casino has a tribal council, a First Nations development partner, which became SIGA’s landlord for the respective facilities. The casinos themselves are now the long-term revenue generators. The First Nation became a tax authority and can establish agreements with other tax authorities, such as service agreements with local municipalities.
“It’s all to promote the use of local First Nations partners,” Cook said. Since its inception, SIGA has distributed more than $1.4 billion to beneficiaries, according to Cook.
Gervais said top of mind for SIGA is developing First Nation talent, as close to 900 of their 1,400 employees are First Nation. That makes SIGA a Top First Nation employer in the province and the average age in their organization is 40.
Gervais said they’re particularly proud of the three female general managers in their seven casinos.
Going forward, with the Saskatchewan economy heating up, especially in resource development, SIGA has some work on their hands, competing for top First Nation talent. Although they had a good year financially, they have a big challenge with high employee-turnover rates, which results in higher costs.