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Bear Hills Casino and Travel Resort's phase one is open for business

The casino, located north of the Wetaskiwin Rest Centre off the QEII highway, is a dream come true for the Louis Bull First Nation's leadership and elders

After many years in the making, the first phase of the Bear Hills Casino and Travel Resort is open for business with a grand opening marking the milestone on June 19.

The casino, located north of the Wetaskiwin Rest Centre just off the QEII highway, is a dream come true for the Louis Bull First Nation's leadership and elders.

The Bear Hills Casino & Travel Resort is owned and operated by the Louis Bull Tribe.

"This is going to be day one of a new chapter for the Louis Bull Tribe," said Gordon Rauscher, president and CEO of the Bear Hills Casino and Travel Resort.

The Louis Bull Tribe is one of the Four Nations of Maskwacis, and part of the Cree nations — the largest group of First Nations in Canada.

"All of the work that the tribe has done up to this point - all of the design work, all of the hurdles we had to find a way through, all of the speed bumps along the way we had to figure out in the construction of it - we can put that chapter to bed.

"As we now enter into operations, it's a brand new day," he said.

"We can think about the future that will change into a future of prosperity, of promise, and of potential," he said.

The 30,000-square-foot casino has a capacity for 600 visitors. It includes 200 slot machines, 10 table games, and a lounge, and will also feature live entertainment.

The casino itself is only the start of several phases within the land development plan.

Future phases, projected to be completed in a couple of years, will include a marketplace, food kiosks, a quick-serve drive-stand, and a covered outdoor performance area.

While the idea for a casino had been around for at least 30 years, the push that led to the realization of the project began to take shape in 2016, said Rauscher.

"In the early 1990s, Ralph Klein wanted to open up gaming to First Nations communities," he said. 

"It took years to develop those programs, terms, and conditions to allow First Nations to become what is called a 'host First Nation,' which includes being a casino owner where the casino is located on a reserve," he explained, adding that Louis Bull representatives were at those initial talks.

Over the years, other priorities surfaced within the community. Then in 2016, plans for the facility got rolling again. 

As Rauscher pointed out, Bear Hills Casino and Travel Resort is also situated in an ideal spot - the middle of 124 km along the QEII highway that does not have services. 

A gas station right next door will be opening in July as well, he said.

"We will also have emergency services available here 24 hours a day. For anyone having a problem along the highway, this is an easy place to get first aid for example, or to get some help," he said.

Before the grand opening, officials had invited Louis Bull's chief and council, elders, and administration to check it out and the feedback was terrific, said Rauscher.

"Everyone enjoyed the meal, and there were a lot of people who were just speechless," he said, noting that most of the employees are also from Louis Bull and Maskwacis.

"That was a goal that the chief and council had for the project; to create those jobs and training opportunities for community members.".

According to Erika Bull-Giroux, executive director of the Bear Hills Casino Society, it's an amazing feeling to see the building come to life.

"It's a dream come true! This is going to create a lot of opportunity for our people," she said. 

Earlier, Bull-Giroux had served as the Louis Bull Tribe socio-economic development director.

"I looked over the businesses of our tribe, and the casino project was one of those," she said. 

In her new role, she looks after the charity aspects of the casino's operations.

"The society will provide funds for enhancing programming in Louis Bull," she said, adding there are several priorities to focus on including assisting seniors, youth, and cultural initiatives, plus helping to fund addictions and treatment programs.

"Today, we are standing at the completion of phase one. It's amazing to see it because we were told on the design to make sure that when people walked in, they could see that it is Indigenous-owned," she explained.

"This is the start of something amazing. It's the start of our path to prosperity and our economic development. I can't explain it. It's an amazing opportunity. It's something new for us, and new for our people."

Roger Anderson, general manager, agreed that it's very exciting to see phase one up and running.

"It brings on another step in the whole economic development part of things for the tribe. Knowing that we are employing a lot of people from Maskwacis and the Louis Bull Tribe adds another level. It makes me feel blessed to be working here.

"I have heard nothing but positive things. You hear the elders talking about employment, the opportunities for training, development, and growth, and how it's going to help the membership. Every day has really been a big day leading up to this."

A groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was held in October of 2022, and construction began in the spring of 2023.

For more about the Bear Hills Casino and Travel Resort, visit





Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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