Benefits and concerns relating to Kahnawake’s gambling industry were at the heart of discussions during a special community meeting on gaming, which took place this Wednesday at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Land allotments, gaming commissions, and the electronic gaming devices pilot project were on the agenda for the three-hour meeting. Louie John Diabo from Magic Palace and Mack Kirby from Playground Poker presented.
According to MCK chief Michael Delisle, who is in charge of the economic development portfolio, the gaming project is financially beneficial for the community. “We will see in the coming days and weeks – after the holidays, obviously – in terms of how it will continue,” he said.
He also mentioned that the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) doesn’t make any money. The revenue it generates goes to the MCK, which is in turn used for community services.
Delisle also presented the legal challenge against Ontario on its iGaming framework, providing an update to the announcement three weeks ago.
“I was just reiterating the history of the past two and half years,” he said. “There is frustration with the fact that we have launched and now we wait for the court to accept the challenges we follow.”
MCK chief Ryan Montour believes when there is talk about collective benefit, there are some community members who don’t see the direct distribution of money in town.
“A lot of money from gaming does go towards the public safety vehicles,” he said. “A lot of money goes into sports and recreation, the Office of the Council of Chiefs (OCC), to grassroot organizations, and the youth centre. So yes, it will be distributed in the community as fast as we can as a council.”
He said over the four-year period the pilot project was operating, Playground Poker has given back $15 million, and Magic Palace’s revenue amounted to about $4 million.
Almost $2 million dollars has been distributed to grassroots initiatives. “So, there was a proper time and policy. We are looking for money for different needs in our community,” said Montour.
According to community member Myles McComber, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) table agrees that the electronic gaming devices planning project was successful.
“Now they are pretty much flaunting the success of the establishments of the Magic Palace and the Playground,” said McComber.
The pilot project was funded through the private businesses, “so they talked about benefits and donations from the community, and they mentioned the stats of how often people from Kahnawake go there; five percent of the community routinely goes to Playground and returns on a regular basis, so this is not a problem for the residents here,” said McComber.
McComber had specific concerns surrounding the profits of gaming projects in Kahnawake, questioning how the council “just holds on to it and they just keep it for payroll, they send it to the general fund.”
He proposed amending the Kahnawake Gaming Law so that proceeds go to people’s pockets instead of the general fund.
“Only a portion of people benefit from it. They claim that for the community it is beneficial, but in reality, it is highly privatized,” said McComber, which he believes to be unjust.
McComber thinks that they could at least try a little harder to get money directly to community members for basic cost of living. “It doesn’t have to be a lot of money as long as they offer something to people,” he said.
“They say the money is for everyone, but in reality, only a couple people can decide how this money is used,” he said.
McComber made his request to the Kahnawake Legislative Coordinating Commission and believes sometime next year they should be able to handle it better.
“There was a request about the use of gaming funds to help the elders,” he said. “I didn’t hear a direct answer from the representatives or chiefs concerning that. I wouldn’t say there is no help for elders, it is just night when there was a new request to help them.”
McComber believes the MCK’s approach goes against its obligation to uphold Kanien’kehá:ka culture. “One spoon, one bowl, so how can we have that if it’s all not shared?”
He added there were some thoughts at the meeting about safety and how a new hotel tied to gaming might encourage sex work in town.
Ryan Montour, the MCK lead portfolio chief for public safety, said there are three layers to combat the problem of prostitution: an internal security component inside the hotel – with a camera system and trained security guards; active police surveillance on both establishments; and an educational campaign.
“I think working in three layers of defense, all those in combination could really help that,” he said.