This week, Senator Scott Tannas’ Bill S-268 has progressed for a second reading in the Senate. If passed, the legislation would grant First Nations the opportunity to license, conduct, and manage gambling operations on reserves. The legislation was initially tabled in June 2023, and Mr. Tannas who has never sponsored a bill before, elaborated on its importance.
If passed as law by the federal government of Canada, Bill S-268 would amend the Indian Act and Section 207 of the Criminal Code of the country, allowing First Nations the exclusive authority to license, conduct and manage gaming activities on its territories. Previously, the bill was backed by Alberta and Saskatchewan-based Indigenous leaders.
Tuesday’s Comments from the Senate
On Tuesday, October 17, 2023, Mr. Tannas said the bill would formalize First Nation’s control on gaming only on reserve. In his words, it would relocate provincial control of such activities, including licensing and the appropriation of the proceeds. He explained that the change would provide hundreds of millions of dollars every year to benefit tribal communities.
When asked if he had consulted or not any provincial governments before filing the bill, the senator responded that he had not done it. But he replied that he plans on inviting provinces to come forward and speak on the impact the bill would have but insisted the bill is about sovereignty. He expects that provinces’ arguments would be that the bill would hurt their gambling proceeds.
Mr. Tannas proceeds by saying that provinces will be given a chance to weigh in on the bill and notes that some jurisdictions may see it as a positive step. He added that he has already received support from the Assembly of First Nation, via their gaming subcommittee. They have already begun preparations for some initiatives in support of the bill, but there have been no talks with provinces.
Lastly, the senator submitted several other questions on the logistics of how the bill would transpire in relation to the existing structures and agreements around gambling in some provinces. This applies to Saskatchewan where First Nations tribes participate in profit sharing from casinos on reservations. But Tuesday’s debate was dismissed before taking action on the legislation.
In a speech on Parliament Hill, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron emphasized the importance of the bill and said it was a step in the right direction. He explained the legislation would enhance and bolster First Nation’s quality of life and would secure First Gaming jurisdiction for gaming on reserves for each chief, council and community.
Kahnawà:ke Disapproves the Bill
However, the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke is alarmed that the new bill could negatively impact its decades-old online gambling industry. Chief Mike Delisle Jr. explained that the proposed tribal legislation falls far short of what MCK is looking for in terms of self-determination. He said the Nation will never sign on with the province being in control or to the Ontario model of running iGaming.
Source: “Senate Holds Second Reading of First Nations Gambling Bill” Canadian Gaming Business, October 18, 2023