Canadian politicians continue to propose changes to the nation’s sports betting landscape, including a recent bill that would expand the rights of First Nations in the gaming industry in Canada.
Last month, Sen. Scott Tannas introduced S-268 to amend the Canada Criminal Code and the Indian Act. The legislation came the same day Sen. Marty Deacon and Sen. Brent Cotter introduced S-269, which would create a framework for Canada sports betting advertising.
Tannas’s proposal would give First Nations the authority to license, conduct and manage gaming operations on reserves. Five First Nations leaders joined Tannas during a press conference announcing the effort.
“We’re in an era of recognizing the rights of Indigenous governments and the sovereignty they have. It will be a very significant piece of economic reconciliation,” Tannas said. “This bill simply asserts what we all know to be the truth, that indigenous governments have sovereignty on their own lands, and in particular when it comes to business pursuits.”
First Nations play for Canada gaming
Along with officially giving gaming control on reserve land to First Nations, the new bill would allow tribes to keep revenue created from the industry.
At the moment, First Nation gaming enterprises can enter a revenue-sharing agreement with provinces.
“This act gives control to First Nations over the conduct and management, which is very important,” Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority Board Chairman Reginald Bellerose said during the news conference. “We believe that First Nations are the best casino operators in the country. The needs are so great. Poverty, addictions, chronic health at the community level. So, our own-source revenue is badly needed.”
Gaming industry taken off-guard
Most industry stakeholders in Canada did not expect the First Nations bill, nor the recent pushes for advertising restrictions, according to Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. Burns said the historical complexity of how the Canadian gaming industry is set up will make discussions difficult, but that there need to be conversations and this bill can jump-start those.
The federal government gave gaming rights to provinces, which have largely signed agreements with First Nations, in the 1980s. Tannas’s bill is a private member’s bill, so it does not yet have backing from the government and will require a long pathway to finish, Burns said. The Senate also does not sit again until September.
“It’s a discussion well worth having,” Burns said. “It’s lingered out there a long time. But now we need to hear from the Federal government, the provincial governments and other First Nations.
“Every one is trying to get their heads around it, about how to change the way gaming is done.”
Not all First Nations are happy
While S-268 has support from multiple First Nations in Canada, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke is not among the proponents. The MCK has operated a sovereign gaming jurisdiction (Kahnawàke Gaming Commission) for more than 25 years, and wants it recognized by Canadian regulators.
“[S-268] falls far short of what we’d like to see in a carve-out,” MCK Council Chief Mike Delisle, Jr. said. “They are following in line with what Ontario did. It’s disappointing and unfortunate we can’t get the type of carve-out that we’d like to see.”
The MCK wantws an exemption so as not to pay a tax to a foreign entity, according to Delisle. The MCK’s own gaming operation, Mohawk Online, has offered online gaming across Canada for more than two decades, regulated through KGC.
Delisle said the First Nation’s gaming revenue dropped 50% since the commercial market launched in Ontario. He also said other operators connected to the Kahnawàke Gaming Commission are coming under pressure because Ontario will not recognize the jurisdiction.
First Nation tension in Canada sports betting
The First Nations have been vocal about wanting more explicit inclusion in Canadian gaming in recent years. Multiple lawmakers lobbied to include language for the First Nations during the successful effort to alter the Criminal Code to include single-event sports wagering in 2021.
When Ontario regulators announced the province would open for commercial iGaming operators, the MCK and the Six Nations of the Grand River announced they would defend indigenous gaming jurisdiction.
The MCK filed a legal challenge against iGaming Ontario in late 2022. The first hearing will be in late February 2024, according to Delisle.
Tribal sports betting app live in Ontario
Despite the MCK’s objection to the Ontario market regulations, Sports Interaction is active in the province.
Avid Entertainment licensed Sports Interaction to Mohawk Online. In February 2022, Entain purchased Avid Entertainment, and the initial plan was to keep the operator in the Ontario gray market, which was phased out of existence by regulators in October 2022.
However, Entain eventually launched Sports Interaction in the regulated Ontario sports betting market, and the MCK removed itself from the app’s Ontario operation. Delisle told LSR the First Nation remains active in its operations throughout the rest of Canada.