The aboriginal-owned GEObet Tribal Gambling Network, an online gaming enterprise based and operated in the United Kingdom, launched the first online tribal casino in North America to allow users to gamble with real money on November 6.
The gaming website NorthernBearCasino.com is named after the affiliated, land-based Northern Bear Casino on the White Bear Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. The site operates on the GEObet Tribal Gambling Network, which functions under the auspices of the Wapi-Maskwa iGaming Act as their governing body.
By attaining different licenses from regulated gaming jurisdictions including Curacao, Malta, and Kahnawake, GEObet has followed every guideline, and has taken every precaution, to ensure that the online tribal casino is a legal entity, Gerry Gionet, GEObet’s chief executive officer and founder and resident of the Tsuu T’ina Nation in southern Alberta, Canada, told Indian Country Today Media Network.
But using the Wapi-Maskwa iGaming Act as Geobet’s governing body has not stopped Canadian officials from denouncing Northern Bear.
According to thestarphoenix.com, Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) Minister Donna Harpauer told reporters that she thought the launch was "probably illegal.” The Star Phoenix also quotes Minister Harpauer as saying, “Right now, I’m going to see what the formal announcement is [from Northern Bear Casino]. We’ll take a look at that and see what our options are.” While the minister did not indicate that any action would be taken following the launch of Northern Bear, the Canadian government has asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to look into the matter.
The minister’s comments appear to contradict those of the former SLGA minister, Ken Cheveldayoff, who is reported as saying that the province is losing “millions” per year by not hosting online gaming sites. Harpauer said she was unaware of Cheveldayoff’s remarks, which has led to the confusion and controversy surrounding Northern Bear.
According to a published report by pokernews.com, NorthernBearCasino.com CEO Bernie Shepherd described his intent to launch with GEOBet despite the controversy coming from Saskatchewan officials: “After almost 20 years of successful First Nations owned and operated casinos in Saskatchewan, I decided to become an owner/operator because I believe First Nations need to ‘Occupy the Field’ of online gambling.” Shepard also said, “I’ll be operating under the same Inherent, Treaty, Constitutional and Sovereign rights as when I opened the first Indian casino in Canada on February 26, 1993. Our forefathers traded globally 100-plus years ago and entrepreneurship has been in our DNA for 10,000-plus years; this is what November 6, 2012 is going to stand for.”
In response to the Canadian government’s derogatory comments concerning the legality of Northern Bear, Gionet said: “I believe they [the Canadian government] should tear down the barriers, that this is a business, that this is not some kind of criminal act.” Gionet added that he would ask the Canadian government to tell SLGA Minister Harpauer “that she should help and participate in our economic future and development. We are not spending tax payer money. We are using our own money, so we are not a burden on the taxpayer, so we would like the government to assist us.”
“Our business plan is to bring you online,” Gionet said. “Our model is of fariness and equality, as you will get a fair deal with us. In Canada there aren’t any laws that can stop you from getting online. We are communicating our economic development and our future. We can do it.”
Looking to the legacy of First Nations people to help build an economic future, Gionet echoed Shepard’s published comments by adding, “We were traders in the past. We have historical data that say we were in gaming, that we did gaming. Lacrosse is a gaming sport.”
Certainly the game of winning something valuable with the inherent risk of losing something important has been ubiquitous in most societies in history, from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to Asia and the Americas. The players always take risks, but, as Gionet knows, the House also assumes risks—and battles some controversy, too. Despite the struggle to make his igaming vision a reality, Gionet is working hard to ensure that this centuries-old enterprise will be significant to the financial future of the people across Indian country. “Our economic future is what we are taking in our hands,” he says, “and we want to share that with the people.”