The provincial online gambling platform PlayAlberta.ca was launched in 2020 and provides online casino to Alberta’s gaming enthusiasts. Now the site faces its most significant challenge since its establishment with two First Nations taking the provincial government and its gaming regulator, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission, to court.
The Southern Alberta First Nations Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina, have alleged that the platform is illegal and unregulated and that it is a way for the government to hoard the land-based casino revenue that previously benefitted local communities and social projects. The First Nations believe that the continuing casino closures serve to help government direct all gaming revenue to itself via PlayAlberta.ca.
In a statement released by Tsuut’ina Chief Roy Whitney during a meeting on Wednesday, the government is accused of deliberately delaying reopenings under the guise of health and safety reasons to obscure its real intent. Whitney believes that the state concern is not for the survival of its citizens, but rather in claiming the income that is the rightful property of the people of the province.
The tribes went on to allege that the government’s involvement in running an online casino, while land-based casinos remain closed constitutes a critical conflict of interest and that the state is now claiming funds that should be going to local communities and charities.
Crown spokesperson Heather Holmen’s response to these claims was that the gaming commission was not aware of the court application, rendering it incapable of commenting on the matter. However, Holmen did state that the government is cognisant of how communities and local businesses are suffering financially due to lockdown closures.
This recent legal action isn’t the provincial government’s first online gambling-related headache.
Addictions Counselling Associate Professor Bonnie Lee previously challenged the government’s stance on online gambling, characterising the decision to launch the offering as reckless as more gamblers had more spare time available. This, she feared, would greatly increase the instances of gambling addictions and irresponsible spending at a time when most people should be exercising caution with their finances.
News of the court application spread soon after it was declared that stage 3 business reopenings in the province would be further delayed.