Ontario broke new ground when it elected to open up the market for sports betting and online casino, but the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke (MCK) are questioning whether this is an overstep of what the law allows.
MCK filed a Notice of Application with the Ontario Superior Court challenging Section 207 of the Criminal Code. In that section, it permits legal “lottery schemes” to offer gambling. In addition to charitable gaming, it allows for province-run gambling. The passage of law C-218 expanded the scope of the gambling these lottery schemes can offer to include sports betting.
Ontario used this opportunity to form iGaming Ontario (iGO) and, in tandem with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), launch regulated online casinos and sportsbooks in the province. Since not all of these casinos are not owned and operated by the Ontario and Lottery Gaming Corporation (OLG), MCK is challenging that the province is actually “conducting and managing” the endeavors.
In a press conference, Ratsenhaienhs (elected Council Chief) Mike Delisle, Jr. emphasized the courts were a final course of action after repeated attempts by MCK to speak with the Attorney General, AGCO, and other representatives.
MCK is seeking some sort of carveout or exemption for First Nations entities to allow them to continue to operate throughout the state.
“The plain facts are that Ontario’s actions are causing a significant loss of important revenues for our community,” said Delisle. “Until these actions were taken, we were operating legally, safely, and successfully across Canada. To be shut out of Ontario – by far the largest province in Canada – will have devastating effects on a source of income that has supplemented programs and services in our community for the last two decades.”
During his conference, Delisle also noted that the actions that led to MCK’s exclusion from Ontario flew in the face of prior communication from several government leaders, including Attorney General David Lametti. Delisle stated Lametti wrote to MCK in June 2021 seeking their involvment in a forum discussion about gambling in Canada, only for no substantial discussions to materialise.
The Kahnawa:ke Gaming Commission (KGC) has been in operation for over 20 years regulating online gambling sites. To be clear, the legal action is not being taken by KGC, rather the tribe is the one who filed the application.
When asked for comment, the AGCO responded with this statement:
“The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is responsible for regulating the alcohol, gaming, horse racing, and cannabis retail sectors in accordance with the principles of honesty and integrity, and in the public interest.”
“As for the AGCO, we are proud to have a long history working respectfully and collaboratively with First Nations in the sectors we regulate. We will continue to approach our work with First Nations communities in a spirit of respect, transparency, and collaboration for the benefit of Ontarians.”
The Ministry of the Attorney General also responded to CGB noting that, as a pending legal matter, it was unable to comment on the case.