Court Challenge To Legality Of Ontario Online Gambling Sector Begins Next Week

Written By Matthew Lomon on February 16, 2024
Gavel on a desk beside the words: The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke vs. the Ontario government. The court challenge is to determine the legality of the Ontario online gambling sector.

Ontario’s open online gambling framework will be thoroughly tested in a court of law next week as lawyers for the Ontario government prepare to defend its legality.

According to the Ontario Court Date’s website, the hearings will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Superior Court of Justice, located at 330 University Avenue in Toronto.

The official court date comes more than 450 days after The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke first filed a Notice of Application with the Ontario Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of Ontario’s online gambling sector, also known as iGaming. The MCK alleges the current iGaming system is illegal.

“We feel that the legal basis for Ontario’s iGaming scheme needs to be challenged in the Courts and being used to cause irreparable harm to Kahnawà:ke’s own legitimate and well-established gaming industry,” said Ratsénhaienhs (elected Council Chief) Michael Delisle, Jr.

“The plain facts are that Ontario has implemented an iGaming scheme, which is based on a very tenuous legal foundation, that is causing a significant loss of revenues for our community. Until Ontario sought to impose its ill-designed reinterpretation of ‘conduct and manage’ on operators and service providers, Kahnawà:ke was able to successfully operate across Canada in a regulated manner. The Ontario’s iGaming framework will have devastating effects on a source of income that has supplemented programs and services in our community for the last two decades.”

Case could hold fate of Ontario’s online gambling system in its hands

Depending on the outcome, MCK’s case against Ontario could have major ramifications moving forward. If the court sides with MCK, the current Ontario online casino, sports betting, and poker system as it now exists could come crashing down.

For that reason, iGaming Ontario is pushing for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to dismiss MCK’s application.

The MCK says iGO, “relies exclusively on private operators to conduct and manage the gaming on behalf of the Province.”

If proven, this finding would leave Ontario in violation of s. 207(1)(a) of the Federal Criminal Code.

However, iGO vehemently refuted this claim in its Jan. 19 factum.

“In sum, iGO controls the games, the money, the data, the advertising, and retains ultimate discretion over conduct and management. In these circumstances, iGO, as Ontario’s agent, must be conducting and managing the igaming regime in the province.”

Kahnawà:ke: Court action against Ontario a last-ditch effort 

The Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke are members of the Mohawk Nation, which winds through Québec, Ontario, and the northeastern US.

Kahnawà:ke, specifically, is located south of Montreal, across the Saint Lawrence.

The indigenous community with a long-standing presence in the online gambling industry is doing everything in its power to preserve its position. And, although viewed as a last-ditch effort, taking action against Ontario was a must.

PlayCanada spoke with Chief Delisle in December 2022 during the early stages of the process. He said the ultimate accomplishment would be for the court to deem Ontario’s online scheme unfit under Federal law.

That said, the MCK is not seeking the complete shutdown of commercial online gambling in Canada’s most populated province. Instead, they want to enshrine the right of Kahnawà:ke and other Indigenous populations to partake in online and retail gambling equitably.

For Delisle, the answer isn’t a one-size-fits-all. But, next week’s proceedings could go a long way in determining what a potential agreement may look like.

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Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

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