PlayAlberta: Province-Owned Site Does Not Violate Canadian Law
The Canadian province of Alberta acted within the law when it established the online gambling site PlayAlberta, the Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled.
The site’s launch in October 2020 infuriated local tribal operators like the Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, who sued to have it shut down in April 2021.
The Tsuut’ina operates the Grey Eagle Casino on its land southwest of Calgary. The Stoney Nakoda owns the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino to the west of the city.
In the lawsuit, they argued that the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission (AGLC) overstepped its jurisdiction by becoming the operator of PlayAlberta. The AGLC’s job was to oversee the gaming, liquor, and cannabis industries in province, not to go into business in the sector, according to the tribes.
Many Canadian jurisdictions have gaming regulators that double up as gaming operators. It’s a model that critics say represents a conflict of interest. But in Alberta’s case, the tribes claimed it was downright illegal under Canadian federal law.
In order to operate the PlayAlberta, the AGLC must have either issued a gambling license to itself, which would have violated the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, or it is illegally operating a casino without a license, they argued.
The case was dismissed by the lower court in February, and that decision was upheld by the appellate panel last week, as reported by The Calgary Herald.
The panel agreed that Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits all lotteries and games of chance but added that it makes an exception for provincial governments who want to “conduct and manage” authorized lottery programs.
Importantly, within (the Criminal Code) is a distinction between a provincial government, which may operate and manage a provincially authorized lottery scheme, and others, who require provincial approval and licencing,” wrote the judges.
“This is different than a lottery scheme for which a non-governmental entity is authorized by a gaming licence to operate a ‘gaming activity’ on licenced premises, or licenced for on-site VLTs in authorized establishments,” they continued. “The purpose of the provincial government’s ‘provincial lottery’ is to raise funds for general revenue.”
PlayAlberta offers slots, casino table games, and instant-win lottery games. It is the only entity that is permitted to operate online gaming in the province.
Insult to Injury
At the time the tribes filed their lawsuit, their casinos were closed because of measures to control the pandemic. This made PlayAlberta the only game in town, which added insult to injury for the tribes.
“The province has abandoned any sense of partnership with land-based casinos and rolled with their online gaming platform, acting as competition to all casinos and legislating that they are the only ones that can operate this service in Alberta during COVID,” said Tsuut’ina Gaming CEO and tribal counsellor Brent Dodging Horse at the time in a press conference conducted via Zoom.
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