Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke Abandons Appeal Against Ontario's iGaming Model

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke (MCK) has decided not to appeal the Ontario Superior Court’s decision to dismiss their challenge against iGaming Ontario’s online gaming and betting model. The court’s ruling upheld the legality of Ontario’s gaming framework, marking a significant moment in the ongoing dispute over gaming rights between the provincial government and Indigenous groups, including those operating Kahnawake online casinos.

The Core of the Dispute

The MCK had argued that Ontario’s changes to its gaming regulations were both illegal and unconstitutional. Specifically, the council contended that the provincial government had reinterpreted Section 207 (1) of the Criminal Code. This section allows provinces to regulate single-event sports betting, but the MCK claimed Ontario extended this to permit operators to “conduct and manage” gaming themselves, a move they viewed as overreach.

However, Justice Lisa Brownstone ruled that iGaming Ontario’s framework aligns with what the Criminal Code permits. This decision was a blow to the MCK’s efforts to maintain control over gaming operations within their community.

Despite the unfavorable ruling, the court did recognize the MCK’s standing to challenge the province’s gaming regulations. Lisa Lahache, the council’s political press attache, noted this as a “silver lining,” affirming the council’s significant interest and expertise in gaming regulation in Ontario.

The MCK has long asserted their “Aboriginal right” to conduct and regulate gambling activities from their community. They argue that Ontario’s regulated market, influenced by Bill C-218, has negatively impacted Indigenous peoples by disregarding their rights and expertise in operating and regulating gaming.

Financial and Operational Impacts

A major point of contention for the MCK is the financial burden imposed by Ontario’s regulations. The requirement to pay registration and licensing fees to operate in the province is seen as a violation of their jurisdiction over gaming. This financial strain led the MCK to cease the operations of its subsidiary, Mohawk Online Limited, within Ontario.

Chief Cody Diabo expressed frustration over this situation, emphasizing that the renowned Kahnawàke Gaming Commission cannot effectively operate in their own region due to the provisions of Bill C-218. “It really puts us in a difficult situation for us to be operating,” Diabo stated, underscoring the challenge of complying with provincial regulations while maintaining their gaming operations.

Future Steps: Bill S-268

Looking forward, the MCK hopes to find a resolution through legislative changes. One potential path is Bill S-268, proposed by Senator Scott Tannas. This bill aims to amend the Criminal Code to affirm that First Nations have the exclusive authority to conduct and manage lottery schemes on their reserves.

Senator Brent Cotter recently supported the bill, suggesting it would extend similar gaming jurisdictional rights to First Nations as provinces currently have. If passed, this bill could significantly alter the landscape for Indigenous gaming rights in Canada.

Advocacy and Amendments

MCK leaders, including Chief Diabo and Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, have been actively advocating for amendments to Bill S-268. They traveled to Ottawa to meet with Senator Tannas, discussing changes that would support Indigenous communities’ right to operate online gaming from their territories.

Diabo expressed hope that the proposed changes would be approved, allowing Indigenous communities to regain control over their gaming operations. “My only hope is that they’ll do what’s right in Bill S-268 and vote in favour of the proposed changes we’ve suggested,” Diabo said, emphasizing the need for legislative recognition of Indigenous gaming rights.

Sources:

  1. http://www.kahnawake.com/news/pr/pr11282022a.pdf
  2. https://www.canadiangamingbusiness.com/2024/05/22/kahnawake-wont-appeal-ontario-court-igaming-decision/
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