Indigenous

Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke taking Ontario government to court over online gaming

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke filed a notice of application to the Ontario Superior Court over how the Ontario government manages online gaming.

Kanien’kehá:ka community has been in the online gaming industry for 25 years

Mike Delisle Jr. is the former grand chief, and a current council chief at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (MCK) is taking iGaming Ontario and the Attorney General of Ontario to court over changes to how the province manages online gaming. 

A notice of application was filed in the Ontario Superior Court on Monday, arguing that the changes are "illegal and unconstitutional." Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP is representing MCK.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

"It's not our first choice," said Ratsenhaienhs (elected council chief) Mike Delisle Jr.

"It's unfortunately come to the point where we feel we have no other choice but to launch this petition, trying to get the Ontario government to understand that this is serious for us."

IGaming Ontario, a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, launched in April as a new online gaming market, including licensing third-party operators that can retain 80 per cent of their gross profits. It's the first province in Canada to implement such a system.

However, Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, has been a player in online gaming for over two decades. 

Since 1996, the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission (KGC) has been licensing online gaming operators. Mohawk Internet Technologies, an entity wholly owned by the MCK, has also been facilitating online gaming through its hosting facility since 1999. All online gaming operators hosted by Mohawk Internet Technologies must be licensed by the KGC. 

In 2015, the MCK also created gaming operator Mohawk Online. In addition to employment opportunities, it has contributed between $30 million and $40 million toward the community's coffers.

Delisle said the new system shuts Mohawk Online out of the Ontario market and undermines Kahnawà:ke's expertise in the online gaming industry, and will "significantly damage" the community's economy. 

"It's putting in jeopardy the entirety of the jurisdiction we've built over the course of the last 20-plus years," he said.

Delisle said since the changes have been in effect, some businesses licensed by Kahnawà:ke have already "jumped ship" to operate in Ontario. He is also worried this will create a precedent with other provinces potentially following suit.

'Last resort' 

Delisle said the Ontario Superior Court is a last resort. The MCK was a vocal opponent of Bill C-218, the legislation in June 2021 that changed the iGaming/sports betting landscape.

"We've exhausted discussions," said Delisle.

"Canada and Ontario need to take a position to ensure that Indigenous abilities to exercise jurisdiction are recognized and are allowed to continue to build the economy."

He said numerous attempts were made to discuss the issue with Ontario officials and federal Justice Minister David Lametti prior to the bill passing. 

"Minister Lametti has met with Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and has been made aware of their concerns," said Lametti's press secretary Chantalle Aubertin.

"However as a general rule, we do not comment on matters before the court." 

A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General said the notice of application was served and is being reviewed. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.

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