The Indigenous perspective

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We spoke with Chief Mike Delisle of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, to discuss the current state of Indigenous gaming in Canada, specifically examining the soon-to-launch iGaming and single-event sports betting markets in Ontario.

How are Indigenous operators responding to the ever-growing influence of commercial operators across the country?

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of Indigenous operators in Canada presently. The Kahnawà:ke started as a regulatory body, the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission, 21 years ago now and only in the last six to seven years have we become an operator through a partnership with Sports Interaction. I’ll put it this way, normally Indigenous people aren’t trusting of government, and sometimes each other, and it can be difficult to put forward a uniform position in terms of how we are impacted. Overall, in 1985 when the Federal Government amended the Constitution, basically eliminating Indigenous communities from being involved in the gaming business and delegating it to the provinces, this is the major concern for us today moving forward. There have been attempts in the past for us to engage with the Minister of Justice, who sent a letter to everyone in Indigenous territories in June of last year, asking for dialogue about the reopening of the 1985 agreement. We said we would absolutely like this and have since received no response. It is frustrating. 

With that in mind, can commercial brands present opportunities for Indigenous operators? For example, your partnership with Entain? 

In regards to Entain, we would like them to become our big brother in the province of Ontario where they will be applying for a license. They know full well that our platform, Mohawk Online, will not be succumbing to Canada’s recent legislation nor will we pay taxes. For us, it’s very different in how we approach things and we have asked the Ministry of Finance for a fair shake. We want a carveout, a way forward or recognition of our regulatory body. This is the angle we are taking and we are building a consensus of other Indigenous communities in Ontario.
We are spearheading this and many others are looking for change.

Conversely, how do you think Indigenous operators can compete with these commercial giants?

We know that these relationships can be an advantage. There are obviously negatives when large corporate bodies move in, but we view our partnership with Entain as a positive in terms of them understanding our current fight, engaging with us to be able to have Ontario and other provinces understand. Ultimately, I think Ontario is the tip of the iceberg; once Ontario launches, other provinces will follow. It’s a money grab. But again, we view Entain as a positive partner, we meet with them often and they areon board with our vision.

How will the new legalization of single-event sports betting in Ontario affect the provinces Indigenous operators?

It will shut us down. Mohawk online will not be able to operate according to the new regulations in Ontario and if we acquiesce to everything they put in place, the taxation and the new rules, it will not allow us to engage with players or to advertise in our markets. However, we have good relationships with a number of larger bodies in Canada and they are beginning to understand this problem. We are still looking to talk with the Ontario Government to see if we can engage and take action, take the steps to ensure that Indigenous space is respected. We have been involved in gaming for over 20 years and we have never been challenged, federally, provincially or internationally. We are not pirates, we want to be respected as Indigenous operators and continue to generate revenue for our people. 

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