Less than three months after signing a historic deal with the Saskatchewan government, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) is moving closer to launching its new online gaming operation.
On Sept. 23, the Saskatchewan government and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) announced an amendment of the Gaming Framework Agreement (GFA), which was originally signed in 1995, to establish the legal grounds for a digital gaming enterprise to be run by SIGA. FSIN, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, and the province established a 50/50 revenue sharing agreement, making SIGA the only First Nations operator in Canada to have such a deal with any level of government for online gaming.
SIGA has signed a letter of intent with the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation (SaskGaming) and will operate the site, most likely with the help of a third-party contractor, while SaskGaming will manage it. The site will feature both online casino games and sports betting. SaskGaming, which is regulated by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), was initially set up in 1996 as a Crown corporation to establish and regulate Casino Regina in the province. Crown corporations are wholly owned federal or provincial organizations that are structured like private or independent companies.
SIGA’s board of directors worked with provincial stakeholders over the last 48 months to hammer out the new agreements and regulatory framework for the deal, and to pave the way for the development of a new online gaming portal.
“Hopefully, this will inspire other First Nations and government revenue sharing agreements in the future,” Alanna Adamko, SIGA’s director of communications and media relations, told Sports Handle.
SIGA, a nonprofit organization with a mandate to create employment and economic opportunities for the First Nations community, operates seven First Nations-owned casinos in the prairie province, which is home to almost 1.2 million Canadians and borders Montana and North Dakota to the south. Established in 1995, SIGA reported revenue of $85.7 million (CAD) and net income of ($16.6 million) for 2020-2021, according to its annual report.
— SIGA (@HomeSIGA) September 23, 2021
Sports betting a key component
SIGA says it played a crucial role in the development of Canadian federal bill C-218, which came into effect Aug. 27 and legalized sports betting in Canada. The organization is planning to make sports betting a key component of its new online gaming portal, and it also wants to open sportsbooks at its retail casinos.
“The online gaming portal is currently at the request-for-proposal stage to select a vendor for its development,” Adamko said. “We just closed that process and will select a vendor in the new year. Once a vendor is selected, development of the site is anticipated to take four to six months.”
Sports bettors in Saskatchewan can currently wager at select retail locations using the Sport Select platform, which is regulated by the Western Canadian Lottery Corporation. With the creation of a joint online gaming portal with SaskGaming, bettors in the province will benefit from the convenience of online betting in the future, and will also have the option to visit a sportsbook kiosk at any of SIGA’s casinos. SIGA runs seven of the nine total casinos in the province.
“Sport Select has a niche in the province, and SIGA will look to complement offerings in the sports betting space to compete against the gray market betting, where these monies are leaving the province,” Adamko said.
The Canadian Gaming Association, a national trade association that represents leading operators and suppliers in Canada’s gaming, sports betting, eSports, and lottery industries, estimates Canadian bettors spend $4 billion annually on offshore sites and $10 billion in illegal bookmaking markets.
Ontario First Nation chief applauds deal
SIGA’s groundbreaking deal with its provincial government is catching the attention of various First Nations community members across Canada, including Shawanaga First Nation Chief Adam Pawis.
“The province of Saskatchewan is finally properly implementing the honor and respect of the Crown as in the spirit and intent of the treaties that were intended in the early days to promote economic prosperity, growth, and sharing,” he told Sports Handle. “And the arrival of a deal between SIGA and the Saskatchewan government is a true reflection of that honor and intent of the Crown to have an upstanding, sharing, and understanding with First Nation communities.”
The Shawanaga First Nation community is located roughly 170 miles north of Toronto, and Pawis said the relationship between Ontario Indigenous groups and the provincial government is fractured, particularly on gaming issues.
“Only 1.7% of revenue is shared amongst 131 First Nations. There is no concept, at this point, to include us in the iGaming model, sports betting model, in any of these new opportunities,” Pawis said. “By disallowing First Nations in Ontario and across the country to participate, it’s a form of economic genocide.”
In 2008, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation signed an agreement with Ontario First Nations Limited Partnership (OFNLP), which required OLG to allocate only 1.7% of annual gross revenue — including revenue from lotteries, slot machines, and table games — to First Nations. (For comparison, British Columbia‘s government agreed to a 25-year pact in 2018 with its First Nations groups to share 7% of gaming revenue.)
The OLG is Ontario’s only legal sports betting provider, but private operators are expected to enter the market in the province in the first quarter of 2022. Among the potential entrants are PointsBet, theScore Bet, FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesars, and BetRivers.
Exclusivity and safe gambling practices
The SLGA will grant SIGA’s online portal app five years of exclusivity, according to a story in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Hence, the provincial government won’t be able to launch any new online gaming platforms until the deal expires.
“This new online gaming site will be a safe, regulated, and secure platform that will fall under existing responsible gambling practices,” said Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskGaming, in SIGA’s initial press release announcing the deal. “This site will have measures and resources in place to support players and protect privacy, while also contributing to the social and economic wellbeing of Saskatchewan.”
SIGA is looking at additional measures to tackle the issue of problem gambling, including the implementation of enhanced technology to track online gaming activity and the ability to set daily/weekly play limits for problem gamblers.
— Problem Gambling (@GamblingHelp_SK) November 16, 2021