Alberta First Nations Sue Gambling Regulator Over “Unauthorized” Online Casino Offering

  • The indigenous groups claim AGLC violated the province’s regulation by launching PlayAlberta
  • Tsuut’ina Nation Gaming’s CEO believes the Alberta government has overstepped its jurisdiction
  • First Nation members pointed to the potential loss of local charity funds generated by casinos
  • COVID-19 has worsened tensions, with Alberta casinos remaining closed for the past four months
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The Tsuut’ina Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nation have taken legal action over a casino website launched by Alberta’s gaming regulator. [Image:]

AGLC under fire

Two First Nations in Alberta, Canada are taking legal action against the local gambling regulator with the aim of shutting down its recently launched online casino site.

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) describes itself as a “commercial enterprise and agency that oversees the gaming, liquor and cannabis industries in Alberta.” The body went live with its PlayAlberta online casino in October last year, offering slot, table, and instant-win games.

website constitutes an “unauthorized and impermissible” entry into the province’s gambling market

In legal action filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, the Tsuut’ina Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nation argue that the website constitutes an “unauthorized and impermissible” entry into the province’s gambling market.

The indigenous groups allege that AGLC has violated the law in one of two ways. It either issued its own gambling license or is illegally operating PlayAlberta without one. The complaint also alleges that AGLC contravened a law necessitating a delay between the granting of a casino and its launch. 

First Nations make their case

Speaking during a Zoom news conference on Wednesday, CEO of Tsuut’ina Nation Gaming Brent Dodginghorse said AGLC overstepped its jurisdiction by setting up business in the gambling sector. He argued that the government body’s role should not extend beyond overseeing the gaming, liquor, and cannabis industries. 

AGLC overstepped its jurisdiction by setting up business in the gambling sector

Meanwhile, Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney pointed to the loss of “charity dollars” generated through brick-and-mortar casino revenue. He said Alberta’s health, education, housing, and social programs would lose out as a result of the online casino.

Although not named as a plaintiff in the legal action, Chief Aaron Young of the Chiniki First Nation also criticized the website launch. He said the website’s estimated five-year revenue of $150m would come “at the expense of land-based casinos and the charities that operate events in those casinos.”

Despite recent objections, AGLC has insisted it spoke with representatives from Alberta’s gaming industry before the website went live “to support the relationship with existing venues.”

Prior to the online casino’s launch last year, AGLC estimated it could provide substantial funding for the Alberta government. The regulator predicted an additional $3.74m for provincial coffers in the 2021 fiscal year. AGLC recently expanded PlayAlberta’s offering further, adding Evolution live casino games in March.

Pandemic strain heightens tensions

Current COVID-19 restrictions have not helped the frosty atmosphere between the First Nations and the Alberta government. On April 7, the province returned to step one of its four-step pandemic framework. This means that its land-based casinos, which have been closed for the past four months, will remain shuttered for the foreseeable.

Undoubtedly, this is bad news for the First Nations’ casinos, which have already suffered financial losses throughout the pandemic. Gambling venues closed for nearly 90 days between March and June last year, and provincial revenue took a steep hit as a result. Alberta saw around $500m in gaming revenue in the 2020 fiscal year, a substantial drop from estimates of $1.4bn prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

The indigenous bodies have also observed how the closure extensions might prove advantageous for AGLC’s casino website. “The province has closed casinos for a prolonged period of time, which also ensures that they are the only option available for those who want to play casino games,” Dodginghorse commented on Wednesday.

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