Saskatchewan Indians Eye Future in Net Betting

27 October 2000
A group of File Hills Indian bands (or First Nations people, as they're known in Canada) is preparing to offer interactive gambling services from their treaty lands in Saskatchewan. Five member bands from the Treaty Four Bands group began researching and developing the necessary by-laws for setting up an online casino as well as the prospect of offering an international license for the operation of an online gaming site to outside groups.

Licensees would not be required to operate from the bands' treaty lands. Their efforts continue despite the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority's expressed opinion that the bands lack the authority to open new casinos. "The authority to do that type of gaming is provided solely and exclusively to governments. Period," a Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority spokesman told the Saskatoon-Star Phoenix.

Too bad, says James Jestrab, the chief financial officer and general manager of File Hills Telecom and Internet Inc. (File Hills would provide potential license holders telecommunications and Internet connectivity services.) After having sought assistance from numerous international, provincial and federal lawyers to review the bylaws and documentation necessary for their licensing efforts, the File Hills group are sure they have the legal authority to offer Internet gambling from their treaty reservation lands, he said.

Jestrab explains that the group is subject to treaty regulations, not national law because the bands signed a treaty with the Crown of England. A combination of treaty regulations and rights leaves the group uniquely able to operate as a virtual sovereign nation, he added.

The Kahnawake Mohawk Indians began licensing Internet gaming sites from their tribal lands in Quebec in July 1999. Murray Marshall, legal counsel for the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, says that the two groups developed their licensing efforts based upon different sets of rights. The Kahnawake used their Aboriginal rights, which are more fundamental and more general rights and are based upon the premise that the aboriginal people lived in Canada first. The File Hills bands, according to Marshall, are using their Treaty Rights, in which the rights are derived from the treaty document. Both approaches are protected under the Canadian constitution, says Marshall. "I wish them luck with their efforts," he added.

The File Hills group is still ironing out the details of their regulatory framework, but Jestrab says that a license holder could expect to pay US $5,000 for an application, which would be applied to the license fee. They've already decided that licenses will not be sublet, nor will companies be able to sublicense to other operators under the File Hills regulations.

Jestrab is reluctant to provide many details about their licensing structure until all the details have been settled., although he maintains that the group wants to do everything properly to protect both the operators of the sites and the players. In addition, no bets at File Hill-licensed sites would be accepted from Canadian residents or anyone using a Canadian credit card.

For their own File Hill-operated Internet casino, two software providers are under consideration. Jestrab says the group initially considered 12 software licensing companies from around the globe. The proposed site would launch during the first quarter of 2001.