24th of February 2010 Author: Glo Wood
"Virtual gambling is a reality and the Ontario government obviously cannot ignore it for long."
Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of the Ontario province in Canada, has followed up on comments earlier this week by the chairman of Ontario Lottery and Gaming that consideration should be given to the province's involvement in online gambling .
The Canadian mainstream media gave wide coverage this week to comments by McGuinty that Obtario should be looking at the online gambling sector, possibly in concert with at least three other Canadian provinces with similar ideas.
"Virtual gambling is a reality and the Ontario government obviously cannot ignore it for long," said Premier McGuinty. 'The issue is whether or not we should be involved in that, and I think we're going to have to make a call,' he added. 'It's something we can't avoid.'
The newly appointed chairman of the OLG, Paul Godfrey, said last week he wants the province to provide Internet gambling instead of watching potential revenues go to other provinces and offshore websites.
Canadian governments know they're losing out on money that's being spent at the more than 2 000 online gambling sites, said Dr. Jeff Derevensky of McGill University.
'They've done the studies,' said Derevensky, an academic with the university's International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviours.
'If they can recoup a slice of it, then that could be better used in government-run programs.'
Allowing the OLG to offer gambling on the Internet doesn't raise the same type of ethical questions as blocking the sale of beer and wine in corner stores, said McGuinty.
'We can control whether or not there's corner-store sales for beer and wine, [but] Internet gambling is taking place,' he said. 'The issue is what do we want to do in the face of that?'
The Opposition said the Ontario government would need to make sure young people who shouldn't be gambling don't access Internet gambling sites.
'The issue we need to deal with is the impact of it,' said Progressive Conservative critic Christine Elliott. 'We need to make sure there are some controls in place to protect young people particularly.'
The Ontario politicians are watching developments in British Columbia, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, all of which have expressed an interest in the sector provided there are appropriately regulated operations.
Quebec politicians have already given a green light to Loto-Quebec which plans to launch an online poker site in the fall of 2010 with Finance Minister Raymond Bachand predicting the province will pull in about $50 million in dividends after three years.
The Atlantic Lottery Corporation's website, in operation for six years, has five interactive games including Hold'em Poker. British Columbia offers online poker, and imposes a $10 000 a week limit on gamblers.
The Western Canada Lottery Corp., which oversees gambling in the three Prairie provinces and the three territories, has said it has no plans to move into online gambling.
The U.S. Treasury Department estimates online gambling in that country is a $16 billion a year industry despite enforcement activities and legislative restrictions.
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