POLITICS

RCMP to review online gaming site launched by former Saskatchewan Indian chief

11/06/2012 02:32 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST
REGINA - A former First Nations chief in Saskatchewan is betting on an online gambling site, but it's not clear if the province will try to make him fold.

Bernard Shepherd from the White Bear First Nation launched a new gaming site at www.northernbearcasino.com on Tuesday.

The site is on the aboriginal-owned GEObet Gambling Network, a gaming enterprise based on the Tsuu T'ina reserve near Calgary.

Under the Criminal Code gambling must be authorized by a province, but that didn't happen with the website.

"We know that this particular operation has not been sanctioned by or conducted by the province," acting justice minister Don Morgan said.

"Gambling within the province is something that is controlled and regulated and controlled and regulated carefully. It's problematic for the province to see an operation that's not within that framework, so we'll want to look very carefully through the Ministry of Justice and through (the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority) for the options that are available."

Morgan said the situation is complex because the website is hosted outside of Saskatchewan.

The Ministry of Justice has referred the case to the RCMP.

Shepherd was not discouraged.

"I've been down this path with them before," Shepherd said from the reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan.

"They said that we weren't within our rights to open land-based casinos 20 years ago. Well today we have six land-based casinos that were the result of us saying, 'No, we're exercising our rights.' We believe that what we're doing is legal."

In 1993, Shepherd set up the first casino on the reserve in defiance of provincial gaming laws. The RCMP shut it down, seizing slot machines and other gambling paraphernalia in a pre-dawn raid.

The confrontation prompted negotiations between the provincial government and Saskatchewan First Nations. Eventually, a deal was struck in which the government and the bands share in profits from casinos.

Charges against Shepherd, who was chief at the time, were later stayed.

Shepherd said he's not surprised that the RCMP has been asked to investigate again. But he said he would consider meeting with the province if asked.

"I think what they're going to do is they're going to dig in their heels and they're going to continue to say over and over that it's illegal and they're going to bring in the RCMP. That's the kind of wording that they always use in situations like this," he said.

"It doesn't help relationships like that."

Donna Harpauer, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, said Monday that the government has decided not to allow online gambling sites in the province.

She said there wasn't a compelling business case to get involved.