The Kahnawake Gaming Commission

Kahnawake Gaming Commission
  • Established in 1996
  • Website - http://www.gamingcommission.ca/
  • Licenses and Regulates dozens of online casinos, poker room, sporting exchanges, and sportsbooks.
  • Also licenses land-based poker clubs, raffles, and private poker rooms in the Mohawk Territory.
  • Hosts the websites of all online gaming licensees on servers on the Territory.
  • Current Commission Membership: Mark Jocks (chairperson), Melanie Mayo, and Lori Jacobs

Associated Entities

  • The Mohawks of Kahnawake
  • The City of Montreal, Quebec
  • The Iroquois Confederacy (historically)
  • Mohawk Internet Technologies Data Center
  • Continent 8 Technologies

All About The Kahnawake Gaming Commission

Today, about 8,000 people live on the Kahnawake territory and are considered a part of the tribe. Here is how the commission describes its First Nations tribal reservation, the history of its gaming commission, and its mission statement. The KGC says of itself: "[The] Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake is a sovereign jurisdiction located just outside Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission was established in 1996 and has been continuously licensing and regulating online and land-based gaming within Kahnawake since that time."

As you'll see, the Gaming Commission has been in the Internet gaming business in earnest since 1999. For the first two-and-a-half years of its existence, the gaming commission was gaining the legal right from the Canadian government to license sites, with defining their powers within the political and legal structure of the Mohawk Territory itself. It may have regulated land-based raffles and card rooms in the area around Montreal, but they are not explicit about how long ago they housed live gaming on their reservation.

Kahnawake Interactive Gaming Law

The Kahnawake Gaming Law was enacted on June 10, 1996. The Gaming Commission has been in the business of licensing online casinos since 1999. On July 8, 1999, the Gaming Commission enacted its "Regulations concerning Interactive Gaming". Since that time, any operator wanting to be licensed by the commission must host their gaming portal at a data center called Mohawk Internet Technologies on the reservation. The data center is managed by "Continent 8 Technologies".

Continent 8 specializes in eGaming hosting services. It has grown into an international network and uses cutting-edge technologies to provide security, safety, and auditing. Continent 8 Technologies has offices in Montreal, New Jersey, Paris, London, Dublin, Malta, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Singapore. The company describes itself as focusing on providing cross-jurisdictional support for the "major global e-markets of Europe, Asia and North and South America."

Regulations Enforced by the Commission

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission offers licenses to and regulates the gaming activities of brick-and-mortar poker rooms, land-based non-profit charity raffles, and interactive gambling activities conducted within the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake. Remember that the tribe insists that licensees host their websites on Mohawk Territory servers, so their regulatory authority includes all license holders.

The raffle policies were enacted in November 2011, pursuant to Section 24 of the Kahnawake Gaming Law. Charitable gaming organizations in the Montreal area who want to host events at the territory should read the raffle gaming policies page.

The Commission's Membership

The commission consists of 3 members at any given time. Commission members are appointed for 2-year terms. The current commissioners are Melanie Mayo, Lori Jacobs, and Mark Jocks, who serves as the chairperson. The commissioners are assisted in their role by a collection of in-house personnel, professionals, and Approved Agents.

Mailing Address of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission

The physical address of the commission is provided below. To contact the Gaming Commission via phone call, dial +1 450 635 1076. To send them a fax, dial the numbers +1 450 635 1139.

Kahnawake Gaming Commission

P.O. Box 1799

Old Malone Highway

Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, QC J0L 1B0

Canada

Those who want to learn more about the Kahnawake Gaming Commission should send their inquiries to their email address at info@gamingcommission.ca. To provide feedback to the commission for any reason, use the Kahnawake Gaming Commission feedback form.

Licensed Online Gambling Sites

As of November 4, 2015, the Kahnawake Gaming Council has offered gaming licenses to 98 different Internet gambling operators. I linked to the list, because it would be unwieldy to list all of them in the body of this article and because the list changes on occasion. A number of the most famous gambling sites in the world are licensed by Kahnawake.

For instance, Bovada (formerly Bodog) is licensed by the GGC. Bovada/Bodog is the world famous sportsbook, casino, and poker site founded as a Canadian company by Calvin Ayre in 1994. Ayre sold Bodog in 2007. After the Bodog domain was seized by the U.S. government, the business changed its name to Bovada and continues to operate its massive community of gamblers to this day.

Aladdin's Gold Casino, Allstar Slots, Club World Casino, High Noon Casino, and Slots.lv are some of the licensed casino sites players might know. Gaming companies with affiliated websites include Bruckhal Services Limited, Goldenrod Securities Limited, Greenpot Services Limited, PDV Management Corp., Technology Services Trading Limited, Top Tech Media Limited, Web Services Online Ltd., Zirconium Gaming Limited, and the aforementioned World Online Software N.V. websites. Even still, that is only a limited list of gaming providers with sites hosted in the Mohawk territory.

Kahnawake Official Logo

Sites licensed by the commission are required to show the Kahnawake official logo. This is more than branding; it is a sign that a provider is certified and in good standing. Those who want to know if a site is licensed by the KGC should search on the site's homepage for the logo. Obviously, it is impossible to police every use of the logo worldwide, so I suggest anyone signing up for a site with the GGC logo should also check the list of licensed operators before signing up. If you find suspicious use of the logo, the gaming commission has asked players to send information on the site to complaints@gamingcommission.ca, so the commission can verify the certification logo is being used properly.

Approved Agents

The commission works closely with a number of third party auditors and consultants, who provide technical assistance in licensing and regulating websites. These third party organizations are called "Approved Agents". At present, the commission lists four approved agents: eCOGRA, Gaming Associates, iTech Labs, and Technical Systems Testing. ECogra is a UK-based, industry-led watchdog group originally founded by Microgaming back in 1998. It audits sites in their network and posts their payout percentages each month, so players can know they are receiving the house edge they are promised. Technical Systems Testing (TST) is an Australian company which audits gaming sites to assure they offer fair gaming which is secure from being hacked by identity thieves.

Itech Labs is another Australian company which does much the same as TST. The iTech labs website describes its business as "testing and certifying online gaming systems and games". Gaming Associates (GA) is an Australian service which served as a model for iTech and TST both. GA has provided "certification services for gambling systems" since 1990. Each of the four groups provides the security and auditing needed to verify websites are safe. To a large degree, these four organizations are the reason people can trust that sites licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission are safe, fair, trustworthy, and legitimate.

Self-Exclusion List

Players who want to register for the self-exclusion list for licensees of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission should go to the comprehensive self-exclusion request form. This allows you to sign up for 1-year, 5-year, or lifetime bans on your gaming habits. This only applies to sites licensed by Kahnawake, so remember to sign the list at any other sites which you frequent. One reason this is a recommended gaming regulator is because they engage in responsible gaming. Not every regulator offers such a form.

Brick-and-Mortar Gambling Licenses

In the past 8 years, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has licensed land-based gambling events, called by the commission "terrestrial" gaming. The commission allows nonprofit civic organizations to host games on the territory, but also has a handful of private poker clubs operating there at any given time. For the nonprofits, poker clubs and raffles are fundraising options.

Land-Based Poker Rooms

Since October 2007, the commission licenses land-based poker rooms within the territory, too. Applicants may apply for various forms of licensing, including a poker room license, a dealer permit, a temporary dealer permit, or a key person permit. A "key person" is a manager or supervisor who is given keys to privileged areas. To gain a permit, the license must involve an approved game in an approved gaming area.

Poker rooms are operated by a limited number of approved social clubs. At present, only four social clubs are allowed to operate card rooms on the territory. Others might be licensed at a future date. Currently, the four licensed social clubs are the Royal Canadian Legion, the Knights of Columbus Hall, the Moose Lodge, and the Kahnawake Marina. Each club is not-for-profit and operates its room for the sake of funding their charitable activities.

Licensed Raffles in Kahnawake

Strict regulations determine who is allowed to operate raffles in the territory. Those eligible are the four social clubs listed above (Royal Canadian Legion, Knights of Columbus, the Moose Lodge, Kahnawake Marina) and the Kahnawakero:non. A Kahnawakero:non is identified as by the commission as "a Mohawk and a member of the community of Kahnawake pursuant to the Kahnawake Membership Law, as it may be amended from time to time."

Exemptions exist for raffles offered by either of these two groups. One of the social clubs is exempted from regulations if they hold a raffle for less than $5,000 Canadian dollars. A Kahnawakero:non is exempted if they hold a raffle for less than $1,000 Canadian dollars. If either holds a raffle for more than the amount stipulated, they must follow all regulations.

Licensed Brick-and-Mortar Poker Rooms

At present, the Gaming Commission allows three private poker rooms to operate on the Mohawk territory. These are the Playground Poker Club, Snake's Poker Club, and VIP Poker Enterprises. These venues have varying levels of sophistication and legitimacy, so research any of them before you play cards there. I give a quick synopsis of each below, along with their contact information.

Playground Poker Club

Route 138, P.O. Box 2040, Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Quebec J0L 1B0

The Playground Poker Club is the premier poker club in the territory (as you'll see below). It has partnered with PartyPoker, Full Tilt Poker, and PokerStars in the past to host events. It has also been the site of tournaments on the World Poker Tour (WPT).

Those with electronic questions for the Playground Poker Club should direct those questions to their email address at info@playgroundpoker.ca. If you want to learn about hours or other details, go to their official site at www.playgroundpoker.ca. Three separate phone numbers are available for the Playground Poker Club: (514) 700-0300, (450) 635-7653, and 1 (855) 685-7653.

Snake's Poker Club

Route 132, Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Quebec, J0L 1B0

Snake's Poker Club closed temporarily in November 2015. It plans to open again in the spring of 2016 as "a modern, beautiful, brand new poker room", according to their official Facebook page. They might well have a new website by that time, because the current website seems inactive. The old site had 15 poker tables and a restaurant, so the new location should have a more elaborate set-up.

To call Snake's Poker Club for more information, dial 450-632-6999. The email address for Snake's Poker Club is info@snakespoker.com. The official website of the terrestrial card room is www.snakespoker.com.

VIP Poker Enterprises

Plaza 138, Route 138, P.O. Box 2374 Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Quebec, J0L 1B0

The license for VIP Poker was suspended by the commission in March 2015, but it was not terminated. It is possible the owners simply left their status in limbo. From June 12, 2014 to October 1, 2014, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission had stripped the room of its license, but it was said to be reinstated over a year ago. The website for VIP Poker Enterprises does not appear operational, so that is a pretty good sign this room's operators are no longer interested in saving the business.

The telephone number of VIP Poker Enterprises is (450) 638-POKER or (450) 638-7653. Those who want to contact VIP Poker Enterprises via email should use the address. info@vippokerroom.ca. People who want to visit their website should navigate to www.vippokerroom.ca.

Other operators have opened rooms and later closed them through the years. For instance, the Platinum Poker Club (formerly the Stardust Poker Mansion) voluntarily terminated its poker license in August 2014.

The Kahnawake Nation and Its Gaming Commission

Online gamblers who've played a while know the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is one of the leading license providers for online gambling sites in the world, offering licenses to Internet-based casino, poker, and sportsbook websites. Gamblers likely have seen the Gaming Commission's logo on websites before, just as they've seen similar licensing details for Gibraltar, Malta, Antigua, and the Isle of Man.

They might not know much about the Kahnawake tribe or its gaming commission, so I wanted to provide a detailed guide to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission's history and tribal authority. Let's begin with this proud nation's history and place in this world.

The Mohawks of Kahnawake live 20 miles south of Montreal, Quebec. Their traditional home is on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where they have maintained claims of sovereignty for the better part of a thousand years. The Kahnawake are one of eight First Nations tribes or Native American tribes in the Mohawk nation. Besides the three First Nations (Canadian) tribes, the Mohawks consist of the Native American Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora Onondaga, and Cayuga Nations of the Northeastern part of North America. From pre-Colombia times into the Colonial Era, the 8 tribes formed the Mohawk Confederacy, which was based on "The Great Law of Peace".

The Mohawk Nation is synonymous with the Iroquois Confederacy, known to European colonists as the "Five Nations" and later the "Six Nations", which consisted of the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Tuscarora peoples. The Confederacy was formed, along with Hiawatha and Jigonhsasee, by The Great Peacemaker ("Skennenrahawi" in Mohawk), sometime in the 12th to 15th century. For hundreds of years, the Nations lived in peace.

Kahnawake Tribal History

The Kahnawa'ke are one of three Mohawk tribes who lived along the St. Lawrence River, along with the Ahkwesasne and Ka'nehsata'ke (Oka) tribes. The word Kahnawa'ke means "of the rapids", because they lived in the bend of the river where the rapids were. The other Mohawk peoples called them the "People of the Eastern Door", because the Kahnawake territory sat on the easternmost section of the Mohawk lands. They traditionally protected the other tribes from invasion from the people living in New England.

When the French colonized Canada, the French Crown gave the territory belonging to the Kahnawake to the Jesuit Order (1680). The Jesuits claimed they would not allow whites to settle on the territory, but over the next 9 decades, the Jesuits allowed white settlers into the area and collected rents from them. After the French & Indian War of 1756 to 1763, the English governor Thomas Gage vested the Mohawk with the land under the supervision of the Indian Department.

Attempts to Maintain Sovereignty

From that time until the 1880s, government agents are known to continued land and rent mismanagement, including giving land to whites. From the 1880s until the 1950s, the Canadian government forced the tribe to make land concessions to railroad, telephone, and hydro-electric companies. This left the tribe in possession of only 13,000 acres of land. Since the 1950s, the Mohawk Nation has sought through the courts to regain possession of their land and compensation, either symbolically or through money.

Over the last couple of generations, they have been more successful in asserting their sovereignty on the lands they do own, which is how they can host interactive websites and license land-based gaming enterprises. As late as 2007, the Kahnawake Tribe's sovereignty has been challenged in court. The Mohawks have won every attempt to take what is left of their land. Those wanting to read a summary of that 2007 case in the Superior Court of Quebec.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission has a quote on their website which summarizes their history and encapsulates their attitude: "The Mohawks of Kahnawake have consistently and historically asserted sovereignty and jurisdiction over their territory. They have never been defeated in battle and have never entered into a treaty with any government that waives or diminishes their sovereignty."

Below is a record of the First Nations tribes' attempts to maintain their political and economic standing in Canada over the decades. The record also describes the key legislation and legal case the Kahnawake and other tribes have used to assert their rights. It includes potential future challenges to those right, too.

Key Tribal Legislation and Legal Cases

The Indian Act - The Indian Act of 1876 remains in force to this day, with certain key amendments. The law governs how the Canadian national government interacts with its 614 First Nations tribes. "First Nations" is the Canadian equivalent to the term "Native American" in the United States, describing the indigenous people who lived in North America prior to European colonization, as well as the descendants of those people. The act covers many subjects, including the governance on Indian reserves, along with the use of reserve lands, their peoples' healthcare, and their education. The Indian Act also determines "Indian status"--who is considered a member of the First Nations. In 1985, an amendment increased the recognition of those people, opening the door for an expansion in First Nations tribes' membership and influence.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - So far as First Nations tribes go, the Indian Act and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are closely related. The Constitution Act of 1982 amended the Indian Act to clarify the legal status of tribal peoples under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The 1982 amendment assured First Nations people had the rights and freedoms offered to other Canadians. Article 35 assures self-government for the Aboriginal people. Section 25 assures such people's rights are not limited by the Charter, which was an interpretation many white Canadian officials took prior to 1982. The amendment states that the law "shall not be interpreted as negating aboriginal, treaty or other rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples."

Since 1985, amendments have allowed those living off the reserve to vote in tribal elections (2000), promoted gender equality by re-categorizing the grandchildren of women who married non-Indian men as still retaining First Nations status (2011), and helped with jobs growth on the reserves (2012).

Indian Gaming Legislation in Canada

Indian gaming in Canada is a direct outgrowth of the American tribal gaming industry. In the mid-1980s, the Cabazon tribe of California began challenging anti-gambling laws, stating they had the right to host casinos, because the U.S. government had signed treaties in the 19th century recognizing the tribe's sovereignty. This eventually led to the landmark Cabazon v. California decision before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, which is the cornerstone of the Native American casino industry in the United States. The Cabazon case began in California years before, so the First Nations leadership in Canada noted the challenge and began to push for similar legislation in Canada.

In 1986, the Shawanaga First Nation of Ontario first challenged the government of Ontario on the casino issue. They built a casino and prepared a legal defense based on Section 81 of the Indian Act, claiming it gave tribes exclusive control of gaming on their reserves. This led to a strong response from the Ontario Provincial Police, which began arresting First Nations leaders who supported brick-and-mortar gambling. This led to a decision before the Canadian Supreme Court in 1991 in a case called "R. v. Furtney", which sided with the province of Ontario. First Nations gambling was struck a blow. (Note: "R" stands for "Rex" or "Regina", and thus the Royal Crown. "R. v." is the equivalent of "United States v." in the USA.)

Over the next several years, the First Nations groups began to see the profound changes brought by the Supreme Court case in the United States. Tribal gaming expanded in California, while the Mashantucket Pequot (Foxwoods) and Mohegan tribes of Connecticut had dazzling success developing casinos. The success of Foxwoods Casino and the Mohegan Sun in nearby Connecticut was a constant reminder to the First Nations tribes of Ontario the lucrative potential of casino gambling.

Therefore, tribes changed their strategy from treaty rights under the Indian Act to the arguments successfully used in the United States--that negotiated treaties between First Nations tribes and the Canadian government was a tacit recognition of sovereignty. This led to a defeat in R. v. Jones and Pamajewon in 1996. Chief Justice Lamar wrote the majority opinion in the case. Lamar used the R v Van der Peet (1996) to deny their claims, saying that the tribe had to prove they gambled prior to first contact with Europeans and gambling was a fundamental part of their culture. The chief justice said this was not the case, so he denied the tribes' right to host gambling on their reserves.

Agreement between Ontario and 133 First Nations Groups

After the Canadian Supreme Court defeats, the tribes decided the judicial approach would yield nothing. Instead, later in 1996, they came to a direct agreement with the government of Ontario. The Mnjikaning leaders agreed to a deal with Ontario which would provide 65% of net casino revenue to the province's 133 First Nations groups. Ontario would receive the remaining 35% in the form of tax revenues. This opened the floodgates to Indian gaming in Canada.

Kahnawake Tribe's Gaming Operations

The Kahnawake were watching the developments in Ontario closely. Their gaming operations did not follow the same model, though. The Mohawk tribes have had a contentious recent history with the national and provincial governments. The Kahnawake have been able to exploit that history to carve out a unique "legal" gaming niche in Canada, while the government avoids any direct confrontation over the issue.

The starkest example of the modern conflict between the Mohawks and the government was the Oka Crisis of 1990. The crisis had been brewing since 1961, when a nine-hole golf course was built on the lands claimed by the Mohawk of the Kanesatake reserve. The Kanesatake tribe are a smaller group than the Kahnawake, but both are part of the Mohawk Nation. Because of their small size, their complaints about the golf course went unheard for 28 years. In 1989, Jean Ouellette, the mayor of Oka, announced the golf course would be expanded to 18 holes and it would be the centerpiece of a resort development.

To halt the development, Mohawk protestors (including Kahnawake) constructed a barricade to block access to the area. This led to a 78-day standoff between the Mohawk and local police, which was only stopped when the Canadian Army was called in. The situation was defused when the government bought the land from the developers and the golf course idea was squelched. The government never did transfer the land to the Kanesatake, though.

In the years since, the Quebec provincial government and the Canadian national government have avoided confrontations with the Mohawk tribes, due to the bad press received at the time. So in 1996, the Kahnawake tribe passed laws which asserted the right to license and regulate gaming activities on their reserve. The provincial and national governments have never given official consent and have even ignored attempts by the Kahnawake to gain official recognition. The status remains in a legal limbo 20 years later, though it would seem harsh to say two decades later that long-constructed institutions and industries were illegal.

The Kahnawake are careful not to overstep their bounds. They insist any business operating on their reserve is owned by a Mohawk. This provides an additional veneer of legality, which would make it harder for the government to challenge the operations. Meanwhile, the tribe licenses non-tribal operators from other countries, which has caused troubles in the past. Legal reasons exist to tread the ground lightly, though.

Starnet Case and Canadian Online Gambling

R. v. Starnet Communications of 2001 continues to have an effects on Canadian online gambling to this day. In the case, Starnet Communications International was indicted by the government of British Columbia for accepting payments from Canadian gamblers. The BC Supreme Court found that it was illegal for Canadian online gambling companies to accept wagers from Canadians. The case eventually was settled out of court, with Starnet agreeing to stop accepting play from Canadian residents. The company also paid a fine. This kept the case from going to the Canadian Supreme Court, which might have issued a more definitive ruling. Since 2001, Canadian online gambling companies are careful not to accept payment from Canadian ISPs.

Kahnawake License Holders Who've Had Legal Trouble

The case of Absolute Poker is the most prominent case of such trouble. Absolute Poker was one of the poker sites involved in the Black Friday scandal. On Black Friday (April 15, 2011), the U.S. Justice Department seized the domains of several online poker sites, while indicting executives who ran those sites. Absolute Poker was hosted at the Mohawk Internet Technologies data center, which made for an uncertain time for the Kahnawake tribe and their iGaming clients. The scandal showed the precarious nature of the operation. Canadians Nelson Burtnick and Ryan Lang (both payment processors with no connection to Kahnawake) turned themselves in to the Americans, because Canada has extradition treaty with the United States government.

The 2012 indictment of former Bodog owner Calvin Ayre and the seizure of the Bodog domain caused more scrutiny, because of the long relationship between the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and the Bodog/Bovada brand.

Is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission Legal under Canadian Law?

No serious legal proceeding have been launched against the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, though. Certain members of Parliament have grumbled about their activities from time to time, leading to speculation of some official action. Nothing materialized. The Quebec Provincial Police have announced investigations before, but these amounted to nothing. Thus, online gambling through the Kahnawake reserve appears to be legal, for the time being.

One point in the favor of the Kahnawake is the fact no other First Nations tribe has sought to establish a similar operation. This is a bit of a miracle, because if dozens of tribes sought to stake out their own online gambling network, this might force the hand of Canadian authorities. Luckily, the most likely tribes to have done so are those in Ontario. Those tribes have a legal agreement not to do so. For now, it appears the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has a unique position in the Canadian Internet gambling industry.

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