Kahnawake Poker “Clubs”- Don’t Hold Your Breath for Local Rooms to Catch Up


Over the past year or so, players have been discovering that a trip to Montreal, or Kahnawake more specifically can offer poker players some of the best poker action and treatment this side of Vegas. Many of those that have been following the scene offered in the poker “clubs” of the area have asked a very legitimate questions; “Why not and when can we get the same going here? Why doesn’t my local card room take some of these good ideas and follow their lead?”

The answer isn’t really simple. For those of you that don’t know, the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake have maintained their sovereignty through many trials in Canadian history. How this is applies to poker plays a much larger role to the game than those who are not familiar with the area and history might think.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission current “licenses and regulates interactive gaming and terrestrial poker rooms that are located within the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake.  Those online gaming operators that are licensed by the Commission must be hosted at MIT, or “Mohawk Internet Technologies.”  The data center operated by this nation of only around 8,000 people may not sound like a “big deal”, but in reality it currently hosts over 400 of the world’s poker and gambling sites. This amounts to over 60% of the entire world market, including several of the biggest and most played sites.

Beyond that, they also have licensed several “brick and mortar” poker venues; Playground Poker Club, Snakes Poker Club and Four Aces Poker Club. These establishments deal only in one form of “wagering”, poker and poker alone. There are no table games or slots, the goal is to provide what the players want.  Action, food, drinks and a ton of variety when it comes to different disciplines and formats for card players.

While this might sound as easy as filing some papers and ponying up a bunch of cash, those that have been granted licenses didn’t just walk in and immediately get approved to open for business. Like any other community, the impact on the residents, the reputation of the prospective licensees were all taken into consideration. There are rules to follow and everything the club is planning to offer needs to be above board and approved by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, nobody is just “handed the keys.” In fact,the decision to allow “live” venues was one that took many years and careful consideration and the newest venue was granted permission to take over an already existing license, there is far from an unlimited supply. If the “clubs” are found to negatively impact the community during this “trial” period, these venues could find themselves looking for somewhere else and it is unlikely they would find a place. Therefore, everybody stays in line or risk losing what has been carefully built. Players must show ID and be registered as a player, this is no more “back room” poker than walking into any licensed Casino and in some ways, even stricter when it comes to knowing who is taking a seat.

In the big picture, Canadian players are taking note of what can be provided to the player, with just a little leeway on varying strict provincial gaming regulations. Better comps, better variety and a few “bevys” at the tables, far from asking the old school law makers for a free for all, just a little less “red tape”. In some provinces, permissions must be obtained for any little variation, running a single table satellite or things as simple as making a game cap limit pre-flop and no limit post and much like a visit to city hall, the process can be more trouble than it’s worth for those just filling time at their 9-5. Any affiliation with an online poker site not regulated by the province is usually prohibited, “.net” or otherwise, somewhat limiting field sizes by not allowing more economical ways into larger buy-in events for everyone.

When it comes to Kahnawake, not only do they know who they are dealing with when it comes to online sites, those in charge of poker on the net also tend to see the potential poker holiday attraction to players, taking chances on satellites not normally extended to Canadian events, since dollar for dollar the prize pools just aren’t usually as big here as other destinations.  Offer a Vegas style atmosphere however, now there is something to put on the table again.

Since the arrival of “Playground Poker Club”, competition between the venues has really heated up.  What this has meant to the player is that the perks and services offered continues to grow, in an effort to gain the loyalty and patronage of the poker player.  Going far beyond the efforts of the  traditional casino outside the territories borders, meals, drinks and even transportation are often on the house and prize pools guaranteed. “Snakes” has offered it’s cash game players “Rake Back” and “Four Aces” has often had tournament guarantees that even provide for some “overlays” on slow nights, provided for some extra money in the middle that players love to snatch up. Omaha, Dealer’s Choice and Texas Hold’em are all spread in addition to a variety of tourneys; from  fast paced re-buy NLH turbo’s, to short handed formats, Deep Stacks or Pot Limit Omaha. Limits vary from standard 1/2 NLH, all the way up to high stakes PLO or Mixed Games, played usually in private rooms with security, to ensure players are comfortable and free to focus on the game.

All in all, the “big picture” that makes up  Kahnawake and the “poker clubs” it encompasses and regulates are unique in many ways here in Canada. Many years of experience specializing in gaming and world renowned council made of top legal experts just isn’t something that can be found many places. Maybe one day that will change, just  don’t hold your breath waiting for your local regulators to catch up.


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Jon Harnish
35 year old recreational player, husband and father of three from Calgary, Alberta. Enjoy lower stakes cash games including PLO and limit Omaha 8. Any of the micro-stakes HORSE games will play online MTTS and SNGs. Live, Tournaments and Satellites up to $550. I love the game but am far to social to take it seriously and sometimes give up a little to much information at the table because I enjoy discussing the game, so decided it was safest for my bankroll to take up writing about the game. That way I still get to meet the cool people and opinions on the game, but with a little less risk. Writing wise, currently a regular contributor to Poker Pro Canada, like to write profiles, previews and recaps the most. formally wrote for Canadian Poker Player Canada. My Poker Blogs have been featured on CardPlayer Social and SpadeClub as "Recommended" or in newsletters on several occasions and Pokerweblogs as "Blog of the Month". Past projects included organizing and promoting major events with the Canadian Poker Tour, introducing Big Slick Poker Tour to Southern Alberta and directing events and finals.



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