WATCH ABOVE: Alberta could soon be betting on another way to bring in more money, but, as Kendra Slugoski reports, critics wonder if it’s worth the gamble.
EDMONTON – The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is currently seeking bids from companies to bring casino games online.
The AGLC estimates there is as much as $150 million being made annually in the online gaming market from Albertans’ activity.
“Anywhere between $120 and 150 million is currently being played by the citizens of Alberta on what we call grey market sites or sites that are situated either off-shore or in other locations,” explains Bill Robinson, AGLC’s CEO.
The agency is asking for proposals on a government-run online gaming system before February 26. Based on similar moves in B.C. and Manitoba, Robinson says there’s definitely an appetite for such a system here.
“We’ve been watching with great interest the last couple of years – four or five years – B.C. and Manitoba. They’ve partnered with a processor, a program called playnow.com.”
Critics have raised concerns that online gaming makes it more accessible to young people and those with addictions.
“There’s a higher percentage of problem gamblers than in other gambling formats,” explains Garry Smith with the Alberta Gaming Research Institute.
“It attracts problem gamblers because you can do it alone, day or night.”
Smith says four per cent of adults in Alberta show moderate to significant risk of becoming addicted. And he says the province isn’t doing enough to help those with gambling issues.
“They make about $1.2 billion and the amount they spend to help problem gamblers is less than one per cent, which makes it one of the lowest provinces in the country.”
However, Robinson says a government-run site would actually track the information of users and supply addiction support resources.
“You are not going to go into the marketplace and introduce something that is going to prey on people.
“With internet gaming, we have an opportunity – because everybody has to register … We have an opportunity to push out responsible gaming messaging, safety measures, that type of thing to potential clients.”
“I understand the temptation because it’s so lucrative and the government obviously needs money,” says NDP MLA Brian Mason. “But… they’ve never put this money back into helping people who have the problem.”
“I think an extension of gambling as a government enterprise at this time is not the right way to go,” Mason adds.
Robinson says the AGLC has been looking into this move for years and the call for submissions is not at all connected to the province’s current economic situation.
He says another benefit of adding an online element would be more money going to charities.
“We turn over well over $330, 340 million to charities every year, out of casinos and raffles, etcetera… that builds roads and hospitals and infrastructure.
“Why let it go somewhere else other than to the benefit of Albertans, if in fact, as we know, Albertans are currently spending those dollars?”
The final decision on online gaming will be made by the government.
Kevin Zahara, a spokesperson for the minister of finance, offered this statement:
“The AGLC is currently reviewing options for internet gaming and has been doing so for over the last year. AGLC is an arms-length agency responsible for gaming in the province. This government has not made any decisions for implementation and we are looking forward to the results and recommendations of the AGLC review.
“Saskatchewan is the only other province that does not offer internet gaming.
“We’ve heard concerns from rural charities that they receive far less funding than their urban counterparts when they volunteer at casinos in the province. It is anticipated that if we decide to move forward with online gaming, revenues generated could be used to help bridge the gap that currently exists between rural and urban charities.
“We look forward to the results of the AGLC review and will make decisions based on the best information available.”