The betting environment in Ontario is in the midst of a change, and a casino isn’t involved – at least not one anyone can see.
The online gambling landscape has long been dominated by websites that fall within the grey market, technically legal but not accountable to customers or governments.
Enter the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation . The OLG launched its online casino several weeks ago and professionals who follow gambling say the move is going to affect all of Ontario, especially students, part of the tech-savvy target demographic.
Ryan Bissonnette, Senior Manager of iGaming Communications, said the OLG is already the largest source of non-tax revenue to the province, providing $2 billion every year.
It is hoped this number will increase as Ontarians move away from grey-market sites and try their online casino, he said.
But the OLG’s move into online gambling worries Robert Murray, manager of Education and Community Resources at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario.
“A lot of people have been reluctant to gamble online because they are grey market, there is this notion they might not pay out, might not provide an honest game,” he said. “But when it becomes government sponsored there’s this idea, ‘Maybe I’ll try this!’”
This phenomenon is expected from the OLG as well. When speaking on the prospect of job losses at casinos caused by the new online option, Bissonnette said that OLG’s research shows that there has been no loss of business at casinos when online gaming is offered.
The OLG has fashioned a system that works to prevent and highlight excessive gambling, he said. The online casino has a number of safety features including loss limits, game and time limits, as well as lottery ticket purchase limits.
Murray, who was involved in the website’s design, said he was glad to see these safety features in use at playolg.ca. However the loss, game and time limits on the site are all self-imposed, something he said he finds troubling.
“They talk about safety belts and airbags in their site,” he said. “But even with that technology, people still get hurt in car accidents, and a seat belt is only good if you use it.”
Murray’s fear is that people susceptible to gambling addiction will not set their limits low enough, or will increase them too often.
The proliferation of online gambling also affects the Humber College student community. The college does not ban or block websites and works on an honour system.
This system works well with images and videos that are likely to offend others such as graphic violence or pornography, but observers remark that few find gambling offensive.
Steve Camacho, director of Technology Services at Humber, said blocking and banning websites is not in the college’s mandate, and for an educational institute to use censorship would not be in the interest of students or faculty.
The issues surrounding this problem are complex, and divisive.
“This isn’t a black and white deal,” Murray said. “When it comes to online gambling, people already have access to sites, and most of those have no responsible gambling features whatsoever.”
He said if people are going to gamble, it is better if they do it on a site that has those features.
“There’s a good side and a bad side to this (OLG’s online casino), the bad side is a lot more people are going to want to try this and a percentage of them are going to get into trouble with it,” he said.