ALC Makes Promises but Receives Criticism for iGaming

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation cannot seem to win these days. Perhaps it knows how many lottery players feel. (Ba-dum-dum. I’ll be here all week.)

Promises of safe gambling options for customers and much-needed revenue during and after the pandemic led to provinces accepting the ALC’s online gaming pitch. Despite the positives, though, the blowback continues. Critics of the igaming expansion say the ALC took advantage of the pandemic in favor of profit and without truly addressing problem gambling.

PEI Looks at ALC Motives

Some members of the Prince Edward Island government are none too happy with the ALC. Liberal MLA Robert Henderson brought some documents to the legislature earlier this month to show how the ALC proposed online gaming to PEI.

First, Henderson showed a business plan that the ALC sent to the PEI government in April 2020. It proposed online gambling for all four Atlantic provinces as a way to raise millions of revenue dollars during the pandemic. However, they needed to ace “immediately, during COVID.”

He called the ALC’s plans “diabolical” and a way to take advantage of people in quarantine. Henderson said it was not only distasteful but wrong.

Further, the ALC had been asking PEI and the others to agree to online casino gaming for a decade. The long-term plan asserted that the first seven years of igaming could increase revenues by 162%. That seven-profit could amount to $89M. For PEI alone, it would push revenue from $4.8M to $12.4M.

In response to the document showcase, the ALC responded to CBC News with an admission. “Atlantic Lottery regularly updates its shareholders on a variety of topics,” the statement read. “The offshore unregulated gaming companies that already offer casino games to Atlantic Canadians have significantly increased their advertising since the onset of the pandemic.” It continued by saying that the ALC would provide a safe alternative and wouldn’t have pitched the idea without the ability to “do it responsibly.”

PEI Finance Minister Defends

Henderson directed his concerns about igaming to Finance Minster Darlene Compton, who ultimately agreed to the online gaming proposal.

Compton responded that she did initially reject the plan and wanted to revisit it after the pandemic. Her decision to take another look at igaming came in December 2020 after a “hard push” by ALC. She then initiated discussions with other Atlantic finance ministers

Further, she noted that PEI will not move forward with the new online casino games until mid-2021. And she insisted that her focus was on more than revenue; it would be a way to protect consumers who were gambling on sites not regulated by the ALC.

Compton didn’t ignore the concerns about mental health and problem gambling, the latter which affects about 2% of Islanders. “We can earmark the amount that is coming from online gaming,” she said, “and put it directly to mental health and addictions.”

Legislators like Henderson remain unconvinced. They also point to the lack of a concrete plan to allocate igaming revenue for problem gambling prevention and resources.

ALC Banks on Safety

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation commissioned a study about online casino games. The problem was that it never published the study. Two studies on the topic, in fact, remain unpublished. CBC News had to file a freedom of information request to obtain a copy.

The gist of the report was that online gambling generates more risky gambling behavior and harm than other forms of gambling. One report from gambling consultant Richard Wood concluded that introducing online gambling may not have a measurable impact on vulnerable players, he did note that “tentative evidence” shows igaming can be “problematic for at-risk players.”

At the same time, the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) says, “The casual link between online gambling and gambling problems is not clearly established.”

Despite that RGC statement, the Council also noted that there are risk factors for igaming from home, including “easy and constant physical access.” Combined with “the ability to be socially isolated” that is a natural part of quarantine, in most cases, it can create problems.

The RGC also indicated that the ability to use credit cards and digital currencies for igaming is risky.

ALC President Patrick Daigle responded, “Our perspective on this is that the most irresponsible thing to do is nothing while these offshore illegal operators are taking money from Atlantic Canadians.” He said that the ALC igaming option will provide a “safe and regulated alternative” for people who are already gambling online.

In addition, the ALC has implemented some – not all – recommendations from the reports:

  • Provide responsible gambling training for all staff.
  • Prominently display a self-exclusion option on the website with options for players to ban themselves from the site for six months to three years.
  • Display a pop-up window every 60 seconds to remind players that they are logged in to the site.
  • Give players the option to set daily time and spending limits.

The RGC report also noted that the ALC should develop a “comprehensive harm minimization strategy.” And the public should be able to access and understand it.

 

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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