The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority's new website will launch sometime in 2022 and offer online casino games and sports betting

Saskatchewan Announces Online Gambling Agreement With First Nations Group

In a landmark deal, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan has announced that its approach to online casino and sports betting will be to go through Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA).

Saskatchewan is home to 74 First Nations groups, as Canada’s indigenous population is known. They’re represented collectively by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, or FSIN.

Last Thursday, FSIN and provincial officials signed an updated version of the Gaming Framework Agreement. Through the existing agreement, SIGA already operates seven retail casinos in the province (the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation operates two others). Now, it will be able to launch a new website offering sports betting and online casino games for Canadians. Revenue from the site will be split 50/50 between FSIN and the province.

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said:

“The FSIN Chiefs-in-Assembly gave the mandate to secure this, and we are excited to finally have achieved it. Many hours, days, weeks, months, and years have gone into making this a reality. It makes it all worthwhile. This will bring in new revenue opportunities that will benefit our 74 First Nations communities. Even during the challenging COVID pandemic, we are continuing to work hard to bring positive outcomes for our First Nations.”

Minister Jim Reiter of the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority said that he was pleased with the deal. He expects that the new site will be ready to go live some time next year.

Canadian provinces look to break from the traditional model

In many ways, gambling in Canada is simpler than the hodgepodge of laws you’ll find in the US. The federal Criminal Code doesn’t go into much detail about for-profit gambling, other than to make it the exclusive right of provincial lottery corporations.

Prior to the advent of online gambling, that made for a straightforward situation. Provincial lotteries sold tickets through the usual assortment of retailers, and charitable organizations could offer a limited selection of games like bingo. Many provincial lotteries also opened retail casinos, either directly or through a subsidiary. Some provinces allowed for tribal casinos as well, and some have video lottery terminals in bars.

For the most part, those provinces which have branched out into iGaming have done so in similar fashion. Some have added online casino games to their main lottery website. Others have done the same as they have with retail casinos, establishing a subsidiary to handle online gaming. Either way, it’s still a lottery monopoly, based on technology from a white label, private sector supplier.

Due perhaps to the legalization of single-game sports betting in Canada and the progression of gambling expansion south of the border, some provinces are reconsidering whether this is the best way to do things. Ontario is going one route, establishing a privatized market in which the lottery issues licenses to online casino brands in return for a share of revenue. That market should go live late this year.

Other provinces are likely watching the Ontario online casino plan to see how it plays out. Now, Saskatchewan is offering another model to consider. It is the first partnership of its kind in Canada, and possibly the world. The closest point of comparison in the US will be the Connecticut online casino market when it goes live in two weeks time.

Saskatchewan was the odd one out in the Prairies

The news will be very welcome to Saskatchewan gamblers, who might have been worried about missing out. It’s a very big, very rural province, bordering on North Dakota and Montana. Of the Canadian provinces, only Newfoundland and Labrador has a lower population density.

Canada’s less populous regions don’t have individual provincial lotteries. Rather, they’ve grouped together. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) covers the three Maritime provinces plus Newfoundland and Labrador. Meanwhile, the Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC) serves Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the territories.

The trouble for Saskatchewan is that Alberta struck out on its own, creating a crown corporation to run PlayAlberta as a single-province iGaming site. Meanwhile, Manitoba managed to arrange a deal with British Columbia to give its residents access to the latter’s PlayNow site.

The situation got worse when Bill C-218 came into effect last month. Most provinces immediately began offering single game sports wagering. However, Alberta and Manitoba got their access through PlayAlberta and PlayNow. WCLC’s retail sports lottery, Sportselect, has stuck with parlay betting for the time being. Once again, Saskatchewan and the Territories found themselves out in the cold.

SIGA’s new site will rectify the issue for Saskatchewan, at least. The Territories will have to decide if they want to try to negotiate access to that or another provincial online gambling site, as they lack the population to create anything of their own.

Now, Nova Scotia remains the only province with no single game betting and no formal plan to allow it. ALC offers it, but of the four provinces it covers, only Nova Scotia has failed to authorize it. It may simply be a temporary delay due to the change in power after the recent provincial election. Tim Houston’s new Progressive Conservative government hasn’t indicated its intentions one way or the other.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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