British Columbia - can online gambling be expanded?

Trade association urges Canadian provincial government not to treat online gambling as an exclusive service

Under the Canadian Criminal Code, only provincial governments have the power to conduct Internet gambling, and the British Columbia government is being urged to exercise this authority in a non-exclusive manner to ensure that Canadian punters are presented with only reputable and safe Internet gambling venues.

As far back as the third quarter of 2009 (see previous InfoPowa reports) the Interactive Gaming Council, a Vancouver-based trade association looking after the interests of major and reputable online gambling operators, was lobbying BC politicians to extend government-only online gambling to reputable private companies in a strictly regulated but international system.

Earlier in 2009 the British Columbia Lottery Corporation had announced it would be adding "casino-style games such as blackjack, roulette and poker" to its online lottery website (see previous InfoPowa report).

At the time, John Kennedy FitzGerald, CEO of the Interactive Gaming Council said, "Like the B.C. Government, the IGC recognizes there are online gaming companies that operate out of poorly regulated jurisdictions.

"However, IGC members are licensed and strictly regulated in jurisdictions like the Isle of Man, Gibraltar and Alderney, which are recognized by the United Kingdom as having the highest regulatory standards in the world. Some of these jurisdictions have been involved with regulating online gaming for nearly a decade."

Fitzgerald went on to offer the IGC's assistance in framing effective BC online gambling regulations that did not conflict with proven standards and measures developed elsewhere to "enhance consumer protection and provide additional tax revenue opportunities for the government."

The issue surfaced again last week in an article in the Canadian publication The Public Eye which was republished in other BC media. The article reprises the previous moves by the government and the IGC, repeating the trade association's warning that there could be trouble if the government kept its [online lottery] monopoly and just added casino-style games to the British Columbia Lottery Corporation's website.

The province would also lose all the revenue benefits of an "open regulated market," while "wasting enforcement resources in a fruitless attempt" to "censor" private gambling websites.

And it would "excessively empower" the lottery corporation "making enforcement activities virtually impossible (improbable that government would shut down its only supplier).

The Public Eye reports that the IGC submission, according to an internal email authored by BCLC's president and chief executive officer Michael Graydon, "...caught the attention of the [provincial] Standing Committee because of the revenue opportunity."

But a briefing note prepared for gaming minister Rich Coleman stated the IGC's "proposed model" couldn't be "authorized under the current gaming provisions of the federal Criminal Code."

The Public Eye report notes that a meeting between the IGC's Fitzgerald and BCLC's Graydon schediuled for October 2009 was subsequently cancelled at the request of the former, who pleaded that he needed to "attend to matters here in Ontario unrelated to the IGC."

But a second briefing note prepared for the gaming minister in advance of that aborted conversation included a section detailing "Options for Private Sector Involvement in Online Gaming in BC."

The Public Eye notes that the question of whether the BC government will entertain the idea of opening casino-style online gaming beyond the confines of its own lottery corporation therefore remains open.

"It's an unanswered question as to whether the Campbell administration will exercise any of those [IGC] options....which were blanked out by government before being released in response to a freedom of information request," the Public Eye observes.

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