Canadian gaming summit discuss online gambling

Mixed views on the trend toward the internet in the Great White North

The Canadian land gaming industry gathered this week at Stampede Park in Calgary for the annual Gaming Summit, and some time was devoted to discussing the provincial governments' trend toward Internet gambling, reports the Calgary Herald.

1 200 delegates and invited speakers discussed Internet gambling and a wide range of other issues at the three day event, which included an expo of the latest products in the business. Over the three days, delegates could view more than 88 exhibits featuring new products, as well as attend workshops dealing with everything from bingo to problem gambling, the newspaper reports, noting that Canadian gambling is now a Cdn$ 14 billion industry employing 135 000 Canadians.

Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation's responsible gambling tool SafetyCheck (see previous InfoPowa reports) was on display, underlining the importance of online gambling safety measures.

"Teenagers are three times more likely than adults to visit offshore gaming websites," the corporation's Margaret McGee told the newspaper. "Our mandate is to build a responsible gaming industry."

The Calgary Herald article covers the recent interest by several Canadian provincial governments across the country in regulating...and gambling.

Paul Burns, vice-president of the Canadian Gaming Association, described online gambling as "the elephant in the room that needs to be talked about, and fast."

"Canadians are spending Cdn$ 1 billion on online gaming," he says, "and virtually all of that is going to offshore companies." By legalising online gaming and regulating it, he argues, Canada will be putting money back into the domestic coffers.

"The customers are way ahead of government and regulators," Burns opined, pointing to a recent Ipsos Reid poll showing a growing number of Canadians expressing an interest. "We think it's high time Canada has that debate, so that is why we're talking about it here."

Some of the industry's most obdurate Canadian critics expressed negative views, telling the newspaper that there were problem gambling dangers ahead.

"The arguments for legalizing or at least regulating Internet gaming in Canada are awfully reminiscent of the ones used for expanding casinos and VLTs a few years back," Robert Williams, a professor at the University of Lethbridge who is also a co-ordinator with the Alberta Gaming Research Institute said.

Referring to internet gambling, Williams expressed concern about what he called its high correlation with problem gambling: "It's at the far end of the spectrum, right up there with slot machines," he claimed, pointing to its alleged addictive qualities. "Problem gamblers gravitate to Internet gambling, because it's 24/7 and there's no one to tell you it's time to go home.

"I think that jurisdictions that have allowed Internet gaming, like Sweden and the U.K., now regret it," Williams said. However, he predicted that [regulated] Internet gambling will soon be a reality in Canada.

"We'll regret it, though," he says, "like we regret slot machines and VLTs."

Canada is already the second-biggest provider of online gaming in the world, Williams noted, pointing to the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal, and claiming: "It's illegal, but the Quebec government has not cracked down on it."

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