Alberta First Nations File Legal Case Against AGLC

The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission likely has been planning for online gambling for years. The regulator started seeking providers in 2018 and 2019, with the entire process of launching igaming done in plain view.

However, AGLC executives may not have been as transparent with First Nations members about the project as they should have been. Now, they will face off in court.

Years in the Making

The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) knew that online gambling would be an important technological improvement for a growing gambling industry. It would also produce increased revenue to handle increasing costs of…well…everything.

Little did they know that online gambling would end up being a necessity, such as in 2020, when government and health officials mandated the closure of land-based gambling establishments. Months and months of revenue losses during the pandemic were just one more reason to push for a comprehensive and fully functional online gaming website.

Another motivation, of course, was the $358M that Albertans spent on internet gaming each year, giving their money to websites not regulated to collect taxes by the ALGC.

Back in January of 2019, the AGLC published a notice to see proposals from gaming operators who could build a system that would offer online casino games for Albertans on computers and mobile devices. Operators submitted numerous proposals

Finally, in coordination with NeoPollard Interactive, the AGLC launched its online gambling platform in October 2020. The site – PlayAlberta.com – offered lottery ticket sales and online bingo, sports betting and online poker. And the games the site lacked upon its initial launched were added in subsequent months.

First Nations File Lawsuit

The Tsuut’ina Nation and Stoney Nakoda First Nation filed a lawsuit – technically an application for judicial review – at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta during the first week of April. The basis for the case is their claim that the PlayAlberta website is unauthorized and illegal.

Others in support of the lawsuit include the Wesley First Nation and Chiniki First Nation.

Specifically, the First Nation communities believe that the AGLC exceeded its authority by offering casino games online and now breaches the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act. They claim the AGLC’s launch of the site was a power grab. It went through no process to obtain an online gaming license.

And they named the Alberta government in the lawsuit for letting the AGLC launch igaming unchecked.

Further, the plaintiffs in the case allege that the operation of an online gambling site by the AGLC is a conflict of interest. The regulator oversees its own online gaming site. And it violated a standing moratorium on creating new casinos in Alberta.

Much of the inspiration for the lawsuit came from the launch of this site for provincial revenue while First Nations casinos remain closed for pandemic reasons and as mandated by the government. (Stoney Nakoda First Nation operates Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino in Morley, and Tsuut’ina First Nation operates Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary.) As First Nations lose revenue, PlayAlberta takes it in.

Standing Behind Legal Filings

The First Nations leadership are standing by their court documents and speaking to the media about the case.

Per the Calgary Herald, Tsuut’ina Nation Gaming CEO Brent Dodginghorse said, “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. We have taken the business risk of building and operating a casino and agreed to share revenue with the province. It is in bad faith for the province to do anything with online revenue other than allocate to existing casinos.”

Dodginghorse went on to say that First Nations and the AGLC had always maintained “excellent relationships and operating partnerships” until the current governmental administration. He said that the igaming decision violated that trust. He noted, “They have said ‘thank you for helping establish the gaming sector in Alberta but we’ll take it over from here.’”

Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Roy Whitney made a public statement to say that he and First Nations leaders tried to discuss the matter with the AGLC, but the regulator ignored their concerns.

Alberta to Respond in Court

Per a spokesperson for Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews, the provincial government would not comment on pending legal action.

Press secretary Kassandra Kitz only remarked, “We can appreciate that Covid-19 has had an impact on casinos in Alberta, as it has for many other businesses in the province.”

AGLC spokesperson Heather Holmen echoed that sentiment, saying that it recognizes the financial impacts of the pandemic. But she went a bit further. “Like most jurisdictions in Canada, Alberta has recently started offering online gaming. As in all Canadian jurisdictions, online gaming is conducted and managed by the provincial authorities in accordance with the Criminal Code of Canada.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Holmen also said she was not aware of the judicial review application.

 

 

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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