Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis secured a significant win Friday after Alberta’s top court ruled in favour of PlayAlberta.
The court’s decision to authorize the government-backed Alberta online gaming site as a legal entity did not come without resistance.
In 2020, after years of lobbying for a regulated online gambling website, the AGLC approved PlayAlberta with relative ease. However, it didn’t take long for competing interest groups to voice their dismay and take legal action against the platform.
Series of appeals by Alberta First Nations come up empty
Herein lies the main conflict that drove the court proceedings to determine the legality of the provincially-regulated wagering site.
In April 2021, the Tsuut’ina Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nation first sought legal action against the province, AGLC and PlayAlberta. They claimed the site was an “unauthorized and impermissible” entry into the casino and gaming market.
At the time, casinos were still facing closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, when the Alberta government chose to introduce online wagering, both First Nations groups felt betrayed by that decision.
“As our casinos remain closed during this pandemic, the provincial government through (the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission) has entered the gaming business,” said Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney.
“By entering online gaming, this government is taking away charity dollars, dollars that charities rely upon. For us, these charity dollars are used to support our health, education, housing and social programs.”
Despite Chief Roy Whitney’s plea, Justice Robert Armstrong sided with the provincial regulator in February 2022. In response, Tsuu T’ina Gaming initiated a second appeal arguing the AGLC did not have the authority to launch and operate its own dedicated gambling website, but to no avail.
Most recent court ruling figures to be the last
The most recent decision in the PlayAlberta saga is likely to be the last. On top of Justice Armstrong’s ruling, a second court, the Alberta Court of Appeals, dismissed Tsuu T’ina Gaming’s claim. It found that both the AGLC and Alberta government were well within their rights to establish PlayAlberta.
This ruling opposes Tsuu T’ina Gaming’s belief that the AGLC does not possess the rightful authority to operate PlayAlberta. However, according to the Canadian Criminal Code, they do.
The appeal judges noted that the Criminal Code says all lotteries and games of chance are illegal, but there are certain exceptions regarding provincial governments conducting and managing authorized lottery schemes.
“Importantly, within (the Criminal Code) is a distinction between a provincial government, which may operate and manage a provincially authorized lottery scheme, and others, who require provincial approval and licensing,” said the appeal judges in their ruling.
As such, the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act says the AGLC, “may conduct and manage provincial lotteries on behalf of the Government of Alberta.”
Per the appeal judges, a province is eligible to preside over a provincially authorized lottery scheme. In the case of PlayAlberta, such a scheme is licit in Alberta as a ‘provincial lottery.’