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First Nation Awaits Verdict from iGaming Hearing against Ontario

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is patiently awaiting a verdict from the Ontario Superior Court after last week’s hearings between the tribe and Ontario’s internet gambling watchdog. The First Nation took legal action against the province’s competitive sector for online casinos and sports betting, claiming the market was operating in breach of Canada’s Criminal Code.

Ontario kicked off its iGaming market for third-party operators in April 2022 and has reaped tremendous success. But the tribe insists that the regulatory framework for online gambling in the province undermines its inherent right to its online gaming operations, which has been under the horizon of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission for over two decades and a half now.

Key Points from the Hearings

The iGaming hearing started with Justice Lisa Brownstone hearing arguments from MCK’s lawyer, Nicholas Kennedy, and lawyers of Ontario’s Attorney General and iGaming Ontario. The tribe’s Chief Tony Perron commented the majority of legal arguments are in connection to the province’s interpretation of the words ‘conduct and manage.’

Eric Doucet, counsel for MCK, remarked the biggest issue with the province is the conducting and managing of gaming in compliance with the Criminal Code. He explained that the tribe the current model of operators getting a license from iGO does not meet the requirements for conducting and managing, as brands are making their own business decisions and not Ontario directly.

Scott Hutchison, the lawyer who defended Ontario in court argued that the conductor of an orchestra does not operate the instruments, but at the of the day, the conductor is still responsible for the symphony. He stated conducting and managing involved a more sophisticated and directive role, as opposed to having your actual hands on the cards and dealing them out at the table.

Just recently, Ontario disclosed its online gambling numbers from the market for the third quarter of the 2023-24 FY. Between October and December, the jurisdiction handled CA$17.2 billion in digital bets via private sportsbooks and platforms which are licensed to operate in the province. This wagering volume translated into approximately CA$658 million in gaming revenue.

Mr. Doucet elaborated that if the court rules in favour of the province, then there could be some massive ramifications for the First Nation and its online gambling business in the future. He added that if the province is allowed to continue conducting iGaming in such a fashion, other provinces will follow, and it would put the tribe in a position to defend its jurisdiction against more territories.

Quebec Refuses to Follow

MCK will be glad to learn that currently, the Province of Quebec is reluctant to follow Ontario’s path and introduce its iGaming framework and fulfill the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition’s wishes. The Finance Minister’s office issued a statement that does not want to see a case of betting advertisements from private operators flood sports broadcasts and expose children to it.

Source: Lafontaine, Miriam “Ontario Court deliberates on Kahnawake gamingThe Hamilton Spectator, February 23, 2024