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Washington Post takes a closer look at Kahnawake Mohawk interests
Clearly as part of the build-up to Sunday's Sixty Minutes program on Internet poker, on which it collaborated, the Washington Post published the first part of an article on the Mohawks of Kahnawake over the weekend.
Post writer Gilbert M. Gaul reported on the ownership of Absolute Poker.com and UltimateBet.com by naming Joseph Tokwiro Norton, former grand chief of the Kahnawake Mohawk tribe located on a reservation near Montreal, through his company Tokwiro Enterprises.
In an interesting article, Gaul follows the career of Norton from his early years as a 28-year-old iron worker helping to build New York City's World Trade Centre. Gaul comments that at first glance, Norton and the Kahnawake might seem like surprising players to control a large share of the $18 billion Internet gambling business.
However, when Norton was elected first to the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, the governing body for the 8 000-member tribe, and two years later to the position of Grand Chief, he set the Mohawks on a course that was to result in one of the world's largest online gambling hosting and licensing facilities in close proximity to Montreal, the introduction of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and a multi-million dollar continuing income stream for the tribe, which had previously subsisted on cigarette sales and federal government payouts.
The transition followed earlier efforts by Norton to persuade the tribe to open a land-based Indian tribal casino, a proposal twice defeated by tribal referendum. This motivated Norton to look at the opportunities gambling presented from another angle - that of the burgeoning Internet, where he made the Mohawks a pioneering licensing jurisdiction, asserting their First Nation sovereignty rights.
Two decades later, in mid-2004, Norton resigned as Grand Chief, leaving a thriving Internet gambling industry that included a regulatory commission, a world-class hosting facility and Mohawk Internet Technologies, a technology firm on the reservation where he continued to work for two years following his resignation from the tribal leadership.
Gaul points out that online gambling sites that apply for a Kahnawake license are required to place their computer servers in an air conditioned and top security server farm on the reservation for a minimum of three years, and he claims that Mohawk Internet Technologies collects millions in fees annually from these rentals, with most of the profits ploughed back into the company.
Gaul reports that Norton's next move was into gambling company ownership when he bought UltimateBet and Absolute Poker in 2006 on deferred terms, although the change of ownership was not announced for a further year. The two sites were subsequently embroiled in massive multi-million dollar cheating scandals perpetrated through software flaws for which the company recently benefited from a settlement with Excapsa - the previous owner - worth some $15 million.
The Washington Post piece goes on to examine more recent business deals involving the Mohawks, in particular their acquisition of a 40 percent stake in an Isle of Man company, Continent 8 Technologies.
This company, part owned by a former Kahnawake consultant named Michael Tobin, operates an Internet server farm for gambling Web sites and other businesses, and offers the Kahnawake a potentially lucrative portal to the growing European market for online gambling.
The Kahnawake were in the right place at the right time, said current Grand Chief, Michael Delisle. "It was a field not yet occupied....we were the first ones into it." Delisle said the Kahnawake have received "millions" from their Internet gambling ventures, and have used the money to support a native language program and other community efforts. He added that Internet gambling supports about 150 jobs on the reservation.
The Kahnawake view their recent investment in Continent 8 as a way to protect their gambling franchise, writes Gaul. "Five years ago, the Kahnawake was the fastest place to be," he was told by John Bud Morris, the executive director of the Kahnawake Economic Development Commission. "Today, that's not necessarily true."
Unfortunately, Norton declined to be interviewed by Gaul, although he provided the writer with "a few financial details about his Internet poker sites."
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