Canadian gambling has come full circle and First Nations folk are – and always have been – the primary drivers of the billion dollar market. Long before the first Europeans arrived, bone and stick-based gambling games were played by every clan, tribe and nation north of the Niagara.
Slahal or Stickgame: Canada’s First Gambling Game
These early games, known as stickgame, bonegame or Slahal are the ancient precursors of cash-based casino games like poker, roulette, blackjack and slots. Whittled sticks and the shin bones of deer, some adorned with carved markings, were the equivalent of modern-day dice, playing cards and casino chips.
According to early Aboriginal mythology, the Great Creator gave human beings stickgame as an alternative to war. Instead of banking payouts, free spins or progressive jackpots in CAD, winners would get first dibs to the sweet meat after the hunt or enjoy dispute resolution by the bone!
In the 21st century, the benefits of online gambling are very different to the peace-keeping advantages of playing Slahal hundreds of thousands of years ago. Although the game rules and rewards are poles apart, there’s one similarity they share… and that’s the fun factor!
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Enter the Europeans: Gambling Conservatism
Early immigrants to Canada had to put up with conservative colonial laws that effectively outlawed all forms of gaming. Card and casino games were frowned upon and betting on the dogs or horses was deemed exceedingly seedy. The only form of gambling that was eventually permitted was a charity or church raffles.
Slowly but surely gambling legislation in Canada was relaxed. Wagering on the horses was legalised in 1910 and the glitz and glamour of the brick and mortar casinos in Las Vegas was instrumental in creating a more sexy and sustainable image of gambling.
Canadian Casinos Finally Appear
Following amendments to the law transferring gambling from the state to provincial authorities in 1985, casinos began sprouting up all over the country. The Crystal Casino in Winnipeg and the Montreal Casino were the first legal gambling houses in Canada. Several gambling dens opened thereafter offering an eclectic selection of slot machines and table games.
Apart from finally offering to gamble as a form of adult entertainment on a par with Las Vegas, Atlantic City, London and Paris, casinos in Canada are important provincial powerhouses that plow money back into the communities.
First Nations Gambling
Canadian provinces such as Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec have signed agreements with First Nations communities, allowing them to offer charitable forms of gambling on their reserves.
The proceeds of charitable gaming events, lotteries and bingo halls have gone a long way in improving the level of education and healthcare in these often remote and economically deprived reserves. Today, gaming is one of the key drivers of these localised economies.
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The Mohawk Community of Kahnawake has taken its rightful place as one of the most recognised online gaming jurisdictions in the world. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission has the same regulatory clout as the Malta Gaming Authority, the UK Gambling Commission and the Curacao Gaming Control Board.
The community’s Mohawk Internet Technologies is a world-class server park that hosts and manages dozens of online casinos and web-based gambling sites.
It seems more than appropriate that the offspring of the original inhabitants of Canada are now the principle movers and shakers in the most modern iterations of the casino. These are the men and women spawned from the world’s first gamblers. Folk who are reputed to have played gambling games from around the last Ice Age, when the woolly mammoth walked this way!