Last Updated Mar 02, 2022, 14:43 PM

Opposition to the Ontario Sports Betting Market From Tribal Nations Gains Momentum

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Ontario recently announced the launch of its sports betting market will take place on April 4th of this year. And many online sportsbook operators have thrown their hats into the ring to launch in the market. However, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke has still been putting in the work to also be included.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke and the Six Nations of the Grand River signed an agreement to defend indigenous jurisdiction over gaming by any means possible. The Six Nations of the Grand River released an announcement indicating that both the communities have been upset over the recent changes to the Criminal Code of Canada that have kept out the interests of First Nations. They feel their legitimate interests have been purposely ignored.

They feel the recent actions of Ontario’s government has clearly demonstrated this issue in showing they have reinterpreted Canada’s Criminal Code’s conduct and established an iGaming initiative under the authority of iGaming Ontario. However, they feel this new model does not allow for or provide accommodations for the Six Nations of the Great River or the Kahnawàke and their socio-economic business, Mohawk Online. And it will be closing off their access to one of the biggest local markets.

Since 1999, the sovereign Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke, which is located near Montreal, Quebec, has regulated online gaming under its own Kahnawàke Gaming Commission. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke launched its own gaming entity in 2015, Mohawk Online. 

This entity has been running its own gray-market sportsbook known as Sports Interaction. Sports Interaction has recently been acquired by Entain when it acquired Avid Gaming. Sports Interaction, which is licensed to Mohawk Online, is live across Canada’s sports betting operations under the jurisdiction of the Kahnawàke Gaming Commission.

However, Sports Interaction does have the ability to apply for an Ontario sports betting license. But the online sportsbook has no plan to do so, as stated by Chief Mike Delisle. He stated that Sports Interaction has already been licensed by their gaming commission, so he feels there is no need to apply for a new license. He also does not intend for the sportsbook to pay any taxes or fees to a foreign government.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke and the Six Nations of Great River intend to defend their jurisdictions. They also intend to start work on developing a national body of Indigenous gaming regulators. Mark Hill, Chief of the Six Nations of Great River, feels that this partnership is the first move in showing the possibilities of what the Iroquois communities can accomplish if they work together.

He feels that, as a collective, the relationships will strengthen their power as they work to assert their rights and jurisdiction in the gaming industry and more. Earlier in February, the Shawanaga First Nation also threw its support behind the creation of an Independent Indigenous Gaming Authority. The tribal nation indicated that no communication had occurred between the province and the First Nations when it came to participation in iGaming.

Adam Pawis, the Chief of the Shawanaga First Nation, stated that they were calling upon the province to, at that moment, stop the launch of the iGaming market in the province in order to give the First Nations their due by having diligent and honorable discussions around the issue.

When Canada’s Criminal Code was being amended to allow provinces to regulate single-game sports wagering, an amendment to the bill, C-218, was proposed. This amendment would have explicitly included Indigenous governments. However, this amendment failed.

According to Delisle, Attorney General David Lametti did send a letter last year suggesting that the Canadian government wanted to work with the Indigenous communities on this issue. However, Delisle also said that in subsequent months there has not been any meaningful engagement on the issue. He indicated that the tribal nations are working to engage and still hope to come to an amicable solution.

Delisle said the tribal nations are still hoping to work with the province, but their efforts have been unsuccessful at this point in time. If these efforts fail, he did say they will be working with other Indigenous communities across Canada.

If the Ontario sports betting market does launch without an agreement with the tribal nations, according to Delisle, Mohawk Online will most likely continue its operation in the province. Entertain also indicated that it plans to keep the sportsbook regulated under the Kahnawàke Gaming Commission. 

However, Delisle is not sure how regulators in Ontario will react to an unregistered operator in the market once the regulated sports betting market launches. 

Written by Allie Nelson, our US Sports Betting Industry Expert.

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