First Nations Sue Alberta Government Over ‘Unauthorized’ Online Gaming Rollout

In Canada, two First Nations are suing the government of Alberta. They are asking the court to shut down the province’s recently launched online gaming operation, Play Alberta.

Play Alberta
The Tsuut’ina Gaming CEO and tribal counsellor Brent Dodging Horse addresses a press conference via Zoom on Wednesday. The Tsuut’ina Nation is one of the two first nations suing Alberta. (Image: Times Now Canada)

The Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda First Nations want a judicial review that they hope will pull the plug on the “unauthorized and impermissible” platform.

Play Alberta launched in October 2020, offering slots, casino table games, and instant-win lottery games. It is the only regulated online gaming platform in the province.

But the tribes say that’s one too many. They argue that the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission (ALGC) has overstepped its jurisdiction by becoming an operator, and this is a direct conflict of interest.

According to the lawsuit, the ALGC must have either issued a gambling license to itself, which would have violated the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, or it is illegally operating a casino without a license.

Broken Agreements

At a Zoom news conference Wednesday, CEO of The Tsuut’ina Gaming Brent Dodging Horse said the AGLC’s job was “to oversee the gaming, liquor, and cannabis industries in Alberta,” and not to go into business in the sector.

The province has abandoned any sense of partnership with land-based casinos and rolled with their online gaming platform, acting as competition to all casinos and legislating that they are the only ones that can operate this service in Alberta during COVID,” he added.

When Play Alberta launched last year, the AGLC established an advisory committee composed of representatives from the province’s gaming industry “to support the relationship with existing venues.”

But Dodging Horse said the reality was that Play Alberta had broken all agreements and relationships the tribal operators had formed with provincial governments in the past.

COVID-19 Adds Fuel to Flame

Tensions are running high because casinos across Alberta have been closed for around four months because of COVID, which makes Play Alberta the only game in town.

In the meantime, charities supported by land-based gaming in the province are losing out, according to Chief Clifford Poucette of Stoney Nakoda’s Wesley band. The Stoney and Tsuut’ina charities currently are not able to meet the needs of its people, Chief Poucette recently said in a news conference.

“Seventy-seven per cent of revenue generated for charities in First Nation casinos is spent on housing, infrastructure, education, and health. It is unfortunate that the province has put us in this position of having to take this action before the courts. However, this government has simply refused to enter meaningful discussions,” he said.

The Tsuut’ina operate the Grey Eagle casino on its land southwest of Calgary. The Stoney First Nation owns the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino to the west of the city.

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