Face-off Between Mohawks and Quebec Continues

9 August 2001
Tension between Canadian law enforcement officials and the Mohawk band of Indians continues to grow as the two sides try to determine whether the tribe's Internet gaming services are in violation of Quebec law.

The Quebec Police Department launched an investigation in January to explore the legality of the tribe's activities on the Kahnawake First Nations reserve near Montreal.

"We are on track with the federal government of Canada in terms of discussing key amendments to the criminal code of Canada that will recognize online gaming as a legal activity in Canada."
- Chief Joseph Norton
Kahnawake First Nations

On the reservation, the Mohawks operate Mohawk Internet Technology, a company that provides licenses and support for several online casino and sportsbook operators.

The investigation could determine whether online casinos are illegal, or whether the Quebec government will have to rewrite gaming regulations to monitor activities of the tribe.

Joseph Tokwiro Norton, the chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, had only a brief comment regarding the investigation, but he's confident that a compromise can be reached.

"We are on track with the federal government of Canada in terms of discussing key amendments to the criminal code of Canada that will recognize online gaming as a legal activity in Canada," he said.

While tribal officials remain tight-lipped regarding the future of their Internet gambling business, a spokesperson for the Quebec Alcohol, Racing and Gaming Board feels that no decision will be made until a thorough investigation is completed.

The spokesperson, Francois Moisan, maintains though that, according to the laws in place in Quebec, the tribe is breaking the law.

For us, theoretically at least, this is illegal."
- Francois Moisan
Quebec Alcohol, Racing and Gaming Board

"For us, theoretically at least, this is illegal," he said. But he also said that that doesn't mean the Quebec government will to try to shut down the tribe's lucrative business."

"There is a problem with the place where you are playing," he said. "Our regulations don't take into account the Internet or anything, so there may need to be some modifications made."

According to Moisan, the investigation, which began at the start of this year, is more of an exploratory mission to clear up legal gray areas than it is anything else. He says that when the Mohawks first launched their gaming services they moved their servers from offshore locations to tribal lands to compromise with authorities. But now, says Moisan, other issues have arisen.

"Before we had a problem with the islands being the place where the servers were located," he said. "The problem was trying to determine if the player is playing on the server or in his house. That was the main concern."

Moisan says authorities are now concerned that the tribe may be violating Quebec law, regardless of where the servers are located, by running an online casino.

"It was always a concern," he said. "It was always in a gray zone. Once the issues of the servers got resolved, that brought up other issues. Since the place you bet is in Quebec anyway, normally, if you look at the law, it is illegal for them to do that."

The government's position is that, while there may not be any specifics in the gaming regulations to address virtual casinos, anything not sanctioned by the province is breaking the law. Moisan says that groups can get licenses to operate casinos, but that there are no provisions for online casinos.

While there are no provisions in gaming laws in Quebec regarding online casinos, Moisan says that the Quebec Alcohol, Racing and Gaming Board doesn't want to make a decision in haste knowing that the tribe did due diligence before going online.

"With the Mohawks, there are things to see," he said. "They have their own gaming board at the reserve and they said it was OK. There is a lot to study in the particular problem there."

The board, according to Moisan, is waiting for the police to conclude their investigation before making its next move.

"We are waiting on the investigation to know if it is legal first," he said. "Then we will see if we have to bring modifications to our regulations."

Moisan says that, if the gaming authorities in Quebec determine that the regulations need to be updated to include online operators, the process could be done quickly.

"It can go from two months to one year," he said. "It depends on how complicated the issues are."

Regardless of the result of the investigation, Moisan feels that with all the unanswered questions surrounding Internet gambling, the debate could drag on for a while.

"There is always a gray zone because there are not only people from Quebec that bet on their Internet site," he said. "It is complicated because now we say the players play from their house, but if they are in Great Britain, what can we do for that? It is a very complicated subject."

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