Saskatchewan First Nations and GEObet Discuss Online Gaming

First Nations in Canada are looking to increase their gaming profile, both online and off.

First Nations are looking increasingly toward online gaming as a potential moneymaker for their members, and the aboriginal-owned GEObet Gambling Network, an online gaming enterprise based in the Tsuu T’ina Nation in Alberta, is working with several Saskatchewan tribes to begin Internet gaming operations. At the same time, since aboriginal and U.S. Indian casino owners are facing real competition from the virtual arena, the company is also hoping to help tribal owners of land-based casinos create virtual versions of their existing businesses.

GEObet hosted a symposium at Trading Place Economic Development Conference and Business Opportunities, a two-day conference on September 24 and 25 that was organized by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) in Saskatoon. The company announced on September 27 that it will launch a new online gambling brand in early November and that a Saskatchewan First Nation, to be named later, would be a major investor. GEObet also plans to be in evidence at the upcoming G2E Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas .

"Details of the venture are currently being drafted, including the legal framework required to ‘occupy the field’ for this venture," GEObet said in a media release. "Discussions are also underway with other First Nations groups, and further announcements are expected."

Gerry Gionet, GEObet’s chief executive officer and founder, told Indian Country Today Media Network that he wants to ensure that First Nations get in on the ground floor of the fledgling online gaming industry in order to take full advantage of the economic-development possibilities. He also wants to help the handful of nations in Canada that own and run casinos maintain a presence in cyberspace so that their customers aren’t lured away by other gaming operations.

“First Nation casinos can’t afford to lose their many land-based casino customers to offshore online operators,” Gionet said in a media release from the Tsuu T’ina Nation. “So we’ve developed a turnkey iGaming solution that will enable Saskatchewan First Nations to get up and running online as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

More than 4 million people visit First Nations casinos in Saskatchewan annually, according to the Tsuu T’ina Nation. With that customer base in mind, GEObet has announced that it is working with First Nations “to develop an online gaming solution that will extend the reach of the Saskatchewan First Nation Gaming network,” the company announced in late August.

Separately, the Tsuu T’ina recently broke ground on a $65 million planned expansion of its Grey Eagle Casino; the plans include a four-and-a-half-star hotel with 178 rooms, a 2,000-seat entertainment venue and 150 new slot machines, according to the Calgary Herald. The Grey Eagle Casino opened on the Tsuu T’ina reserve in December 2007.

First Nations across Canada are growing increasingly aware of the potential of online gaming. The Kahnawake Mohawk are developing such an enterprise, said Joseph Delaronde, political press attaché for the office of the Council of Chiefs of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, to Indian Country Today Media Network this summer.

“We are exploring online opportunities in order to create revenue for our communities and provide business and employment opportunities for our members,” said Bernie Shepherd, former chief of White Bear First Nation, in the Tsuu Tina statement. “We are doing this by exercising our inherent and constitutional rights.” Shepherd played a major role in developing Canada’s first aboriginal-owned casino in Canada, in 1993, the statement noted.

GEObet “enables casino operators to defend and retain their customer base against online raiding by the major casino consortiums with its industry-leading and award-winning online gaming products,” the Tsuu T’ina release said. Its system is licensed in Malta, Curacao and Kahnawake and “expands both land-based and online casino business with complete legal compliance and virtually zero cost of development,” GEObet said.

“If we don’t do it now, we’re going to be left out,” Gionet said of aboriginal participation in online gaming. “And I’m concerned that they’re going to occupy the field. I don’t want to miss it.”