- »ALC Faces Backlash for Promoting iGaming in Nova Scotia
ALC Faces Backlash for Promoting iGaming in Nova Scotia
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation sent more than 400,000 flyers to people in Nova Scotia to offer a welcome bonus for its online gambling site. Considering the recent launch of the site for Nova Scotians and controversy surrounding it, the move was a bit risky. And the ALC is receiving backlash for it.
Expanding Online Gambling
The idea of online gambling took root during the pandemic. Of course, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation thought about offering online casino games and online poker in the past, but never did it seem so important as during the 2020 pandemic.
As the sale of lottery tickets at retailers dropped due to Covid-mandated closures, online lottery ticket sales increased five times in just the first few months.
The ALC moved forward in mid-2020 with a plan to offer online casino games like slots and table games via an online gambling site. It launched in New Brunswick in August 2020 while also seeking provincial approvals in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Nova Scotia’s Executive Council Office did approve online casino-style games in February 2021, with PEI showing every intention of following. All areas covered by the ALC knew the revenue would be beneficial in the pandemic recovery. Further, online gambling in a regulated environment would keep tax dollars in local communities versus the millions of dollars gambled in non-regulated casinos online each year.
First Big Promotion Surprises Many
The ALC decided to do something big to promote online gambling in Nova Scotia. Typical online advertisements were fine, but the host of the online games wanted to do something bigger.
It sent exactly 409,314 flyers to people in Nova Scotia, to about 40% of the province’s population. Those enticements to gamble on the ALC’s website included a $20 voucher to everyone who started a new account.
ALC spokesperson Jillian Moore told CBC that the promotion had the intended effect. “As a general practice, Atlantic Lottery does not release financial or other results related to specific marketing campaigns or promotions,” she said. But she did this time, “Overall, we have seen a significant increase in new accounts being created in recent months, with the number of players on alc.ca doubling since April 1, 2020.”
Some of that doubling of new accounts is a result of the pandemic in general, a response to people being unable to access most land-based gambling options over the past year. However, some of the increase is undoubtedly a result of introducing the games to new players and offering new promotions.
CBC talked to a Tory finance critic, Murray Ryan, about his concerns, some of which echo throughout the public in response to the new availability of and promotions for igaming.
Ryan said that the tactic is not okay. “It’s like, ‘Here’s free money; here’s the website to go to.’ Whereas without that voucher, without that coming in the mail, many Nova Scotians would never go looking for it, would never come across it.”
Evidently, the ALC also failed to clear the promotion with the government. Health Minister Zach Churchill expressed some concern about the flyers and planned to speak with ALC officials about it.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill was more outspoken in opposition. He called it inappropriate and said, “If there was ever a wrong time to be incentivizing a program such as this, this would be it.”
Burrill referred to the pandemic, a yearlong health crisis that led to an economic crisis for many people across Canada. He indicated that the promotion takes advantage of people’s time in lockdown.
Protections Without GANS
The ALC has insisted that it offers strong player protections and responsible gambling information for existing and new players on its site. The site itself includes age and residency verifications, as well as options for players to set deposit limits, time limitations, and self-exclusion options.
Some Nova Scotians hesitate to believe that the prevention of gambling harm is a top priority of the ALC or the government, as they just folded GANS (Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia) in January 2021.
The ALC does host a PlayWise section of its website to provide responsible gambling information and help for those who may need it. This does provide quite a few tools to retailers and land-based gambling facilities to tackle gambling issues, some feel that it does not conduct significant outreach to communities that have or will be affected by online gambling.