Online gambling: waiting for the pitch
t’s coming. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon. And the argument will be a familiar one.
The proponents will use the same arguments that were made to introduce video lottery terminals to the Atlantic region. Something along the lines that “something has to be done to protect Atlantic Canadians from shady ‘grey-market’ offshore gambling sites.” Plus, there’s all that money to be made.
The proponents in question, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC), will fight hard to be seen as the white knights in a nasty business.
How do you know it’s coming? Well, a couple of ways. Ontario’s lottery corporation is right in the midst of rolling out Internet gambling to its 53,000 Winner’s Circle members, a group that’s probably ready to kick the online gambling site’s tires.
The “we’re going to be the good guys” argument was used in Ontario as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) prepared to launch its much-broader online gambling website.
OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti said this to the Windsor Star: “We want to make sure that $500 million stays in Ontario. ... That money is going offshore with no assurances people will get paid - and many of these websites have gone under and money was lost. ... We did market research and the trust factor is a big thing. People have faith this will be a regulated site and if they win, they will get paid.”
Perhaps that’s why the ALC fledgling online gambling site boasts the slogan “Safe. Secure. Proudly Atlantic Canadian.” (You can play online now with the ALC, but not full Internet gambling. More on that in a future column.)
That’s also why this year’s ALC annual report echoed Ontario’s, saying, “Atlantic Canadians are spending millions of dollars annually on these gambling sites that operate
Ioutside of any regulations established by our governments. Unlike Atlantic Lottery, those sites’ profits don’t stay in the region to support our communities.”
The report suggested “a safe and regulated alternative would advance player protection in Atlantic Canada. ... We think it is time for the discussion.”
There’s a lot to that discussion - if it ever goes further that the ALC and its shareholders.
Robert Murray with the Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario spelled out the issues with that approach pretty well, also to the Windsor Star: “They are making gambling accessible 24/7 on any screen size - laptop, smart phone, tablet. You will be able to gamble in the middle of the night in your jammies with a case of beer beside you. There are risks to this.”
The risks are bigger even than with VLTs - and VLTs have more than their fair share of problems. Anyone who covers court in the Atlantic provinces knows how often VLTs and gambling addiction come up in fraud and theft cases, and no one ever does an analysis to see whether the costs of VLTs might be outweighing their single benefit: cash for governments.
But VLTs, as successful as they are at sepa- rating cash from suckers, aren’t catching enough young people or enough action. Even though a St. John’s Telegram investigation showed single machines pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash a year (and other evidence shows average profits of roughly $63,000 per machine per year), the machines are seen as losing their lustre.
That’s because younger players are moving to faster online offerings, and people gambling from the security of their home computers have less immediate stigma to worry about and more available cash - it’s only a credit card number away.
Just watch: the argument is going to be framed as “the gambling’s going on already, so we should have a regulated slice of the pie.”
What it won’t be is whether, ethically, provincial governments should be in the game at all. If they do decide to play online, the damage done by VLTs will look like a drop in the bucket.