- »Nova Scotia and PEI Move Toward ALC Online Gaming
Nova Scotia and PEI Move Toward ALC Online Gaming
Early in 2021, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation took steps to launch online gaming in the four provinces over which it regulates. New Brunswick had already been experimenting with it since mid-2020, but the ALC made a concerted effort to bring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island on board.
There was some pushback. However, governments in both territories seem to be moving toward embracing the new technology.
Nova Scotia Eyes Spring Launch
Originally, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) began pushing online gambling options for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the pandemic. The sudden loss of land-based gambling and lottery options left operators and retailers with no alternatives except online lottery games. Communities and groups that relied upon the distribution of gambling profits saw that financial aid melt away – and in some cases, disappear – due to pandemic shutdowns.
Other motivations for the ALC included expanding profits for distribution to communities, as well as a simple expansion to technological options to keep up with the times. When regulated entities don’t keep up with needs from the population, those people find their games on casino and gambling websites based outside of the province.
The Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation expressed skepticism of the idea but vowed to give serious consideration to online gambling.
That skepticism turned to approval during the first week of February. The Executive Council Office issued an order to amend the Gaming Control Act, as recommended by the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services. The Council amended it to “enable the offering of online casino-style games.” It was effective as of February 4, 2021.
The online casino may launch in spring or summer of this year.
It Costs What?
The ALC isn’t developing online casinos for each province out of the goodness of its regulatory heart. There is a cost to developing, hosting, and launching the games.
Jillian Moore of the Nova Scotia Gaming Commission told CBC News that the costs will be shared by the provinces, but it seems that Nova Scotia’s portion of the bill will be approximately $3.1M.
Other parts of Canada that launched online casino and internet gaming products have shown that they quickly recoup development costs with revenue. Even so, that doesn’t make it any easier for Nova Scotia to justify the expense at a time when the economy is in dire straits.
PEI Plans to Follow Along
The government of Prince Edward Island approved the igaming proposal in December 2020. However, public consultation is a requirement before implementing any plan to launch a site.
Finance Minister Darlene Compton appeared before the PEI Standing Committee on Health and Social Development on February 17. She took questions and fended off criticisms for about two hours.
There is more than a little opposition. Green and Liberal MLAs have not been shy about their hesitations, and opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker expressed concerns at the hearing. “Somebody has to lose in order for PEI to make money,” he said, according to CBC. All of the studies show that that person is more likely to be a low-income Islander, that that person … is more likely to be a problem gambler.”
Most concerns revolved around problem gambling, to which the province already dedicates 1.5% of its gaming revenues to programs and efforts to reduce or prevent gambling harm. In the 2019-2020 financial year, PEI committed more than $200K to it. And while that number will rise to $300K annually with the addition of new gambling options, some say that is not enough.
If the move to internet gambling is inevitable, some MLAs want an advisory council on responsible gambling, one that will oversee the funding and actions regarding gambling harm. Evidently, the government promised to establish that council in the past and never did it.
In addition, some MLAs want gambling ad bans…or at least strict restrictions.
In Defense of Regulated Internet Gaming
Compton stressed that PEI residents are already playing the online games, only now they do it on offshore gaming sites that don’t pay taxes to PEI. And their profits don’t help PEI residents, either. The goal with a state-run casino site is to bring players to sites that operate under PEI regulations and ultimately benefit communities in PEI.
She also compared internet gaming to lottery tickets, saying that people will gamble. The only issue at hand is whether or not to leave the sites unregulated by PEI or take them under a regulatory wing.
Department of Finance Policy Manager Jennifer MacDonald-Donovan stressed that the focus is not to entice more people to gamble. The goal is to bring players from other sites into the ALC-regulated system.
Addiction Concerns at the Core
The most frequently expressed concern about igaming is the potential for addiction and all levels of gambling harm. Gambling opponents and addiction counselors will continue to push the ALC and their respective provinces to implement new and more wide-ranging responsible gambling programs.
One counselor, Elizabeth Stephen in speaking to CBC, asserted that more new customers will log on to the new site. Not only will the ALC advertise, it will entice new players with the “perceived legitimacy of the website being endorsed by the government.”
Stephen and others are calling on governments to demand that regulators set caps on daily, weekly, and/or monthly play. They want more funding for mental health, addiction, and prevention programs.
Those concerned about internet gambling want all entities to put people before profits.