The Canadian province of Ontario is to join Quebec, British Columbia and the Atlantic Provinces in offering internet gambling according to a statement Tuesday by the provincial minister of finance, Dwight Duncan.
The possibility that Ontario would join its sister provinces in regulating online gambling has been on the political agenda for some time, but has become more urgent following strong moves into the sector by the other provinces.
Finance minister Duncan said Tuesday that the province will offer online gambling in 2012, harvesting tax revenues that could grow to Cdn$100 million per annum within five years, according to government estimates.
The government owned Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation will be charged with operating the new venture, and will be specifically tasked with creating a safe and fair environment for gamblers which will exclude problem and underage punters.
Supporting the move into the online sector, OLG chairman Paul Godfrey told a news conference: "OLG needs to be current and to keep in tune with the changing needs of our customers".
He added that the venture will implement the gold standard in responsible gaming controls and tools, along with best-in-class security to ensure the safety and security of customers' accounts and personal information.
Minister Duncan said the new initiative was meant to ensure "the competitiveness of OLG going forward. We know that we're losing about Cdn$400 million per year to offshore websites."
Godfrey added: "If we're going to retain Ontarians' money in Ontario, we've got to start doing it now."
The online venture has the potential to add Cdn$100 million a year to OLG general gambling revenues, which reached Cdn$1.7 billion in 2009. The Canadian online gambling market has been estimated at Cdn 1 billion a year in some quarters.
Robert Murray, manager of the problem gambling project at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said while online gamblers represent only a small proportion - about 2.1 percent -- of total Canadian gamblers, the Internet is one of the fastest-growing methods of gambling.
Murray said he is concerned that more people will want to try online gambling if they know it is government-sanctioned.
"The trick is to balance the need to generate revenue with the social consequences that this expansion of gambling may result in," Murray told CTV News.
Minister Duncan stressed there will be safeguards to ensure responsible gambling.
"Although Ontario is following many other jurisdictions, we feel that by the time OLG launches its site, it will benefit from best practices and policies in use worldwide," he said.
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