First Nation Vows to Derail Ontario Online Gaming, Sports Betting Market

Published: February 1, 2022, 07:18.

Last updated on: February 1, 2022, 07:18.

Ontario will launch its own online gaming and sports betting market on April 4, signifying a move away from the regional monopolies that have persisted in Canada thus far.

Ontario Games Online
MSIFN President Kelly LaRuca, pictured, described the impending liberated online gaming market in Ontario as a “huge threat” to the tribe. (Photo: Jason Liebregts / Metrol)

About 30 operators are lining up to launch in what could quickly become one of the largest markets in North America. With a population of approximately 15 million, it is expected to generate C$989 million ($789) in total revenue in its first year and C$1.86 billion ($1.46 billion) by 2026, according to research firm Vixio GamblingCompliance.

‘slap in the face’

But not everyone licks their chips. The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) operates the Great Blue Heron Casino and Hotel northeast of Toronto. In a statement, the tribe described the provincial government’s Friday announcement of the launch date as a “slap in the face” for First Nations Ontario that “reduces … promises of reconciliation to a joke.”

The Nation said it would file a lawsuit in an attempt to disrupt the market.

“The government has completely and utterly failed to consult our First Nation — and has left the launch of iGaming open to constitutional challenge,” said Kelly Larocca, MSIFN President.

“The Ford government has recklessly ignored our concerns and offered no strategies to address the impact their inadequate plan would have on our First Nation, our culture, and our ability to provide services to our community,” she continued.

It is a real and serious threat. will not hold up. If the Ford government is not willing to remedy the damage caused by its decision, we will have to make it accountable, in an election year.”

The response underscores the tension that can exist between county governments and First Nations when it comes to gaming.

Canadian tribal games on less trusted grounds than in the United States. This is because there is no federal legislation in Canada that enshrines indigenous gaming rights, such as the Indian Games Regulatory Act (IGRA).

First Nation Games Rights

The IGRA allows sovereign tribes to play second-tier games (electronic bingo, card games), provided that it is legal to do so anywhere in the state. It also requires the tribes to enter into an agreement with the state government for third-tier casino games. These charters can provide tribes with assurances against the future expansion of state-sanctioned gambling.

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the concept of tribal sovereignty, which includes the right to self-government and the right of a tribe to use its sovereign lands in the manner it chooses, including for economic purposes. But the court also ruled that neither gambling nor its regulation is “an integral part” of First Nations culture and therefore not protected by federal law.

Unlike the Native American tribes, the First Nations could only play the games under a territorial license and according to provincial laws, which many consider an affront to their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the Canadian federal government refuses to engage with First Nations in judicial matters relating to casinos because it has transferred the authority to regulate the games to the provincial governments.

This does not mean that tribes and provinces cannot work together when it comes to online gaming. Last September, the province of Saskatchewan announced that it would launch an online casino and sports betting platform in partnership with the Sovereign Indigenous Peoples Federation, splitting revenue 50/50 between the two parties. The Federation represents the 74th First Nations of Saskatchewan.

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