Online Gambling - Not a Priority In Canada

More urgent priorities and uncertain law prevent Canada to follow US example

Despite a clear demand for the pastime and so many more urgent dangers to the nation that merit attention, it is interesting enough that American federal enforcement agencies such as the Department of Justice and the supposedly terrorism-focused Department of Homeland Security are so keen on suppressing online gambling.

Like puzzled American online players, the Vancouver Sun newspaper in Canada asks a similar question in an article published this weekend, where it examined why Canadian enforcement has not followed the US example in pursuing the many online gambling operators offering services to Canadian punters:

"The ongoing crackdown by American authorities against foreign operators of online gambling sites begs the question: why haven’t Canadian authorities done the same?"

Following the question, the newspaper has tried to get the answer from various experts. And to start with, one must know that, according to the Criminal Code, in Canada only provincial governments are permitted to run lotteries or betting games on the Internet. Still, there are an estimated 2,000 offshore gambling sites accessible to Canadians, who are wagering up to Cdn$4 billion annually.

As one of the law professors commented: “When economic interests begin to come into play, maybe that will be the greater incentive to deal with the offshore sites. Dollars may drive the decision in the end.”

It is obvious that the Canadian law is not sufficiently precise when it comes to internet gambling, and legal opinion is divided on whether the law is being breached at all. Moreover, the opinion is that enforcement bodies have far more important national imperatives to pursue than chasing after a pastime that is a private choice of Canadian citizens.

Paul Burns, vice-president of the Canadian Gaming Association, told the Sun of another possible reason for the lack of enforcement interest, claiming the industry frustration over this legal grey zone: “There hasn’t been a huge public outcry. There’s a high level of acceptance of offshore operators in Canada. Either you enforce the law or create a framework to regulate these offshore sites. Canada has so far chosen to do neither."

Burns also said that his association would welcome lawmakers' moves to legalize and regulate offshore operators, and therefore give clarity to the situation as well as provide better protection to Canadians.

One academic noted the practical difficulties only too familiar to American law officers: are players to be prosecuted for an activity in the privacy of their own homes and if so how? How do you exercise jurisdiction over an operator who is in another country? And this is coming in a week with Black Friday-style indictments and domain seizures against Canadian-born Calvin Ayre in the US.

There are Quebec, British Columbia and certain Atlantic provinces that currently permit online gambling, with Ontario due to join in this year. As provinces become more involved in online gambling, there will arise a pressure for more enforcement, for both commercial and moral reasons.

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