First Nations Online Casino Launch Results in Legal Fight

Written By Janice Doughtrey

Former First Nations chief Bernard Shepherd is not afraid to take on the law.  In the early 1990s he opened the First Nations White Bear casino, which quickly was raided by the RCMP.  After lengthy negotiations with the Saskatchewan government and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), the 1995 Gaming Framework Agreement made it legal for First Nations to operate casinos on their lands.  Since that agreement, six First Nations casinos have been established throughout Saskatchewan.  Now Shepherd has decided to test the legal limits once again, this time by launching the Northern Bear online casino in White Bear.

However, history is repeating itself as the Saskatchewan government has referred the matter to the RCMP for investigation.  The province has not authorized the online casino, which is required under Canadian gaming law, but Shepherd argues there is a loophole to that law.  He says because the casino operates through servers on the British Virgin Islands with the support of the GEObet online gaming network, he and First Nations communities are within their legal rights.

Shepherd says he is fighting for the rights and prosperity of First Nations communities.  He argues that because online gambling has become such a profitable and popular industry over the last few years, casinos on First Nations lands have been losing money.  As a result, he believes it is time for First Nations to become a part of this industry.

The provincial courts say the matter is very serious and very divisive.  But Don Morgan, spokesperson for Justice Minister Gord Wyant, says the province of Saskatchewan plans to control and regulate gambling.

“It’s problematic for the government to see an operation that’s not operated in that framework, so we’ll have to look very carefully.”

However, the province has ruled against any provincially regulated online gambling sites, arguing there will be increased problem gambling cases if approval is granted.  This refusal to get involved will further complicate First Nations moving forward with online gaming domains.