How far should the provincial government wade into the realm of online gambling?
If the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) has anything to say about it, the province won't just wade in – it will become a major player.
The provincial agency is looking for a contractor to provide online gambling services so it can cash in on the estimated $350 million-plus Albertans spend each year on gambling sites. So far, it has received dozens of bids.
The AGLC is making no bones about why it is doing this. According to news reports, it sees the move as a way to generate more revenue and capitalize on something many Albertans already take part in.
It is also attempting to make a moral argument that a regulated online gambling service will give people a safe place to gamble. The successful contractor will have to incorporate "a variety of social responsibility tools," AGLC said this week – that could include time limits, bet limits and messaging about addiction programs.
Currently, about five per cent of Albertans struggle with gambling addiction. By providing the highest level of online security, trust and convenience, however, it’s plausible provincially sanctioned online gaming could further exacerbate the number of problem gamblers.
For those people, gambling is no game – it's a tangible illness that can destroy their lives and the lives of the people closest to them.
With the province trying to get a slice of the online gambling pie, it could very well become a competitor to the many charities that rely on casino revenues to carry out their charitable causes, should there be no online provision for charities (charities currently have volunteers who physically work at the casino. How would this translate online?)
By providing a regulated online gambling service (government-speak for providing a place to play that gamblers can trust, as opposed to possible scammers), it’s conceivable more Albertans may be willing to give the virtual slots and blackjack dealers a try.
The risk to charities, of course, is that fewer and fewer people will play in the bricks and mortar casinos.
It is somewhat ironic that governments of all levels across Canada are growing their own addiction. Governments have always been addicted to money – our money – and their appetites for it knows no bounds. Recently we’ve seen the federal legalization of cannabis, the introduction of the provincial carbon tax and St. Albert’s introduction of an electricity franchise fee.
Governments try to rationalize and justify such actions by employing such words as “morally”, “responsibility” and “fairness”, but all of them provide additional revenue streams (which again is government-speak for wringing more money out of us). We should be concerned about governments’ creative revenue-raising skills.
The province will be seen by many, particularly those in the business of treating addiction, as legitimizing online gaming. Odds are there will be unintended consequences.