The role of Canadian provincial governments in gambling isn’t new. You’ve got your lotteries, provincial casinos, and governments have gained from horse racing as well. Local city governments often divide down the middle with camps pro and con on bringing in mega casinos into downtown entertainment meccas, or in the suburbs. In Ontario, it seemed like talk of a series of real world casinos faded, and was replaced by talk of a government run, online gambling portal – run by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission.

It’s clear to see government wants in on the action of online slots, poker, and other electronic versions of casino games. Ontario isn’t the first to sidle up to the online gaming. BC, Quebec, Manitoba and all of the Atlantic Provinces all have their online casinos. PlayOLG is really kind of late to the party. Before the existing government-funded sites started up, there were the so-called “grey market” gambling sites which aren’t regulated by provincial governments. The Ontario government forecasts revenues in the area of $500 million which could be sourced by the PlayOLG site. Critics point to history where government run gaming commissions were anything but transparent in their expense reporting, and business practices, such as the BCLC and the OLG expense scandal in 2009 and 2010. In some cases, online casinos run by governments are losing money instead of raking it in.

There is no explicit law against online gambling in Canada, it has been the operation of online gambling sites in Canada which has been illegal. The OLG has been promoting “sneak previews” of its online gaming portal to members of its “Winners’ Circle” membership of casino enthusiasts. There are about 50,000 members who have been invited to PlayOLG in an attempt to lure their frequent gamblers away from the temptation of sites run in offshore data centres, and to get them to keep their loonies local.

Provincial sites like PlayOLG are offering online lottery tickets, free online games to educate online gambling “virgins”, and their very own WordPlay blog. On the surface, everything looks very colourful, youthful and safe. It will be interesting to see whether the provincially regulated Ontario site will actually take revenues away from the “grey market” online gambling sites. Or will Winners’ Circle members will stick to real-world casinos and/or off-shore sites which they are used to? Quebec and BC sites have established $10,000 per-week limits on their gaming clients.

In some cases, online gambling revenues have gone to fund initiatives such as gambling research centres.  In others, provincially regulated gaming sites are losing money or barely breaking even.

In most discussions, the best justification which provinces are coming up with is if they don’t set up regulated sites, citizens would gamble their money away to non-regulated sites. Most of provincial sites are using state of the art security and they certainly have strategic, home court advantage in terms of promoting their services. They also claim protection of their players which isn’t available on other sites.

Hopefully history won’t repeat itself in terms of some of the scandals of the past, and government run gambling sites will live up to their promises of charitable/responsible use of gaming revenues. Quebec once promoted its online gaming sites as “Honesty You Can Bet On”. Will Canadian gamblers go all in with sites like PlayOLG in future, or cash in their chips and sit at the “Unregulated” online gaming tables again?

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