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First Nation Challenges Ontario’s iGaming Sector in Court

Almost two years ago, Ontario kicked off its online casino and sports betting sector for private operators, and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke was less than pleased with the province. The Quebec-based First Nation took legal action against Ontario over the legality of the market, and it recently rejected the province’s claims on the first day of the court hearing.

Ontario compared the competitive sector for internet gaming to the province’s model for operating land-based casinos. Recently iGaming Ontario explained that provincially-run Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation collaborates with private-sector brands to run brick-and-mortar venues. iGO claimed its framework is similar to the OLG, as operators first need to acquire permission.

MCK Sees the Market as Violation of the Criminal Code

However, Nick Kennedy, an associate at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP and lawyer for the MCK does not agree. He remarked that there is a difference between running a casino and conducting a game that happens in that casino. The First Nation argues that third-party operators conduct and manage iGaming, which would be considered a violation of the federal Criminal Code.

Meanwhile, iGO’s factum reads that the main problem in the application is the interpretation of ‘conduct and manage’ in section 207(1)(a) of the Criminal Code. Meaning, that if Ontario is conducting and managing the iGaming framework, then the market is legal, if not, then it is not legal. Ontario insists that iGO is running the operations, while the First Nation disagrees.

The tribe requests the court for a formal declaration that third-party operators are the ones behind conducting and managing online gaming in Ontario’s sector. It also seeks the court to invalidate the legislations and regulations behind the framework, as they would help enable a gambling mode that reportedly puts operators in charge, which would contradict the Criminal Code.

Furthermore, Mr. Kennedy and MCK attempted to disapprove of Ontario’s claims that the province is conducting and managing a gaming regime. The tribe sees iGO as a regulator, which the province already has. The lawyer also noted that there is no evidence that there is more or less problem gambling, and money laundering, as those were the objectives of the new private-sector regime.

Another important aspect in the case is that MCK claims that the new mode is economically harming to its community. Since 1996, the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission has been licensing online and land-based gambling. The sports betting operator Sports Interaction is also operated outside of Ontario by Mohawk Online Ltd., a company wholly owned by the First Nation.

Influx of Betting Advertisements

MCK’s court documents also mention the barrage of gaming ads which have bombarded Ontario since the launch of the new market. However, the province is in the process of limiting them, as it previously announced that celebrities will be banned from featuring in such ads. However, the new advertising standards are not yet in play, as they will go into power on February 28, 2024.

Source: Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, February 2024