Tribal Opposition Against Ontario Sports Betting Mounting

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Ontario sports betting

A significant sports betting operator and allies are growing more vocal for recognition in Canada before Ontario launches its online gaming market.

With the commercial Ontario sports betting market set to launch April 4, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke is still working to be included. Last week, the MCK and the Six Nations of the Grand River signed an agreement to “defend, by any means possible” indigenous jurisdiction over gaming.

According to the announcement with the Six Nations:

“Both communities have been frustrated by recent changes to Canada’s Criminal Code that have effectively shut out First Nations by willfully ignoring the legitimate interests of Indigenous Peoples in the gaming industry.

“This is being clearly demonstrated by the recent actions of the government of Ontario, which has unilaterally reinterpreted the ‘conduct and manage provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada and established an ‘igaming’ initiative under its authority, iGaming Ontario.

“This new model does not provide accommodations for, and will not benefit SNGR or Kahnawàke’s socio-economic business, Mohawk Online, as it closes off access to one of its largest local markets.”

Established gaming entity in Canada

Located near Montreal, Quebec, the sovereign MCK has regulated online gaming under its own Kahnawàke Gaming Commission since 1999. In 2015, MCK launched its own online gaming entity, Mohawk Online.

The entity runs its own gray-market sportsbook, Sports Interaction, which Entain recently acquired when it bought Avid Gaming. Licensed to Mohawk Online, Sports Interaction is live across Canada sports betting operating under the KGC jurisdiction.

While Sports Interaction could apply for an Ontario license, there is no plan to do so, according to Chief Mike Delisle.

“It [is] already licensed by our gaming commission, therefore, no need, we’ve been operating since 2015,” Delisle said. “Nor are we open to paying any fees or taxes to a foreign government.”

Joint indigenous forces

The MCK and Six Nations announced they will work to defend their jurisdictions. They will also “begin development on a national body of Indigenous gaming regulators.”

“This type of partnership is the first step in demonstrating the possibilities of what we can achieve as Iroquois communities if we work together,” Six Nations Chief Mark Hill said. “We are much stronger not as individuals, but as a collective, and these relationships will strengthen us as we assert our rights and jurisdiction within the gaming industry and beyond.”

Earlier this month, the Shawanaga First Nation announced its support of an independent Indigenous Gaming Authority. The tribal nation says no communication between the province and the First Nations has occurred regarding iGaming participation.

“Once again, we call upon the province to immediately halt the launch of the iGaming market in the province and to diligently and honorably hold discussions to consult with First Nations,” Chief Adam Pawis said in a statement.

Efforts for sports betting recognition

While the Canadian government worked to amend the Criminal Code to allow provinces to regulate single-event sports wagering, an amendment to bill C-218 was proposed to explicitly include indigenous governments. That amendment failed.

Delisle said Attorney General David Lametti sent a letter last year suggesting the government wanted to work with the indigenous communities. Several months later, Delisle said there has been no meaningful engagement.

“We’re trying to continue to work to engage,” Delisle said. “That’s the hope, that we can come to an amicable solution.”

MCK plans to operate in Ontario

Delisle said there are still plenty of “irons in the fire” in Ontario.

“We are still trying to work with [the province], but without any success at this point,” he said. “If [the efforts don’t work], I won’t discuss strategy, but we’re working with other indigenous communities across the country.”

If the Ontario market launches without an agreement, Delisle said Mohawk Online will likely continue to operate in the province. Following the Sports Interaction acquisition, Entain said it plans to keep it regulated under the KGC.

Delisle is unsure how Ontario regulators might react to an unregistered operator once the market launches.

Ontario launch approaches

Last month, the AGCO announced the April 4 launch date for commercial online gaming operators. Three operators already announced their registration with the AGCO:

With 15 million people, Ontario sportsbooks could generate up to CAD $570 million in revenue this year, according to an Eilers & Krejcik report.

Other provincial plans in Canada sports betting

Delisle said other provinces, like British Columbia, are watching Ontario sports betting as a test case.

In Saskatchewan, the province granted the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority the rights to online betting. SIGA hopes to launch a sportsbook this summer.