In the US, the east coast is leading the way for regulated online casino gaming. Not so in Canada, where the Atlantic Provinces are mainly behind the curve.
As of today, Nova Scotia is a little less so. “Canada’s Ocean Playground” has decided to join neighboring New Brunswick in allowing the lottery to offer casino games.
Under Canadian federal law, almost all gambling (except charity raffles, bingo and the like) falls under the umbrella of “lottery schemes.” The relevant portion of the Criminal Code decrees that all such schemes must be “conducted and managed” by provincial governments through their agencies or crown corporations.
Most of these provincial lotteries now have iGaming sites with online instant games, casino games and – as of last summer – sports betting. The Atlantic provinces are individually too small to have their own lotteries. Instead, a single entity – the Atlantic Lottery Corporation – serves all four. However, the provinces can each decide for themselves what products are available to their residents.
Nova Scotia was the last of the four to say “yes” to sports betting. However, it has been quicker to adopt casino gaming than Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, which are still without.
Public Resistance is Strong in the Maritimes
The decision is bound to face some criticism. Since New Brunswick decided to try a pilot program for online casino games, there’s been a lot of pushback from the public and local media.
Video lottery terminals abound in the Maritimes and have been tied to a rise in gambling addiction. One study found that 1 in 4 users of VLTs develops a problem. Much of the fear around the possibility of online casino gaming centers on the idea that it will be like VLTs, only worse. Many headlines have focused on the higher stakes possible with online play.
The current Progressive Conservative government seems to be aware of this. Its tone in announcing the decision is remarkably different from the usual fanfare.
In an interview with the CBC, Finance Minister Alan McMaster said:
We didn’t want to make a big announcement about this. We’re not trying to really promote it. We just wanted to put it out there. It’s up and running now and it’s there for people who want to play.
Regulation is About Cutting out the Black Market
Here at Bonus and previously at Online Poker Report, we’ve often made the case that however one feels about online gambling, prohibition simply doesn’t work. It’s altogether too easy for interested players to find illegal offshore sites.
The government has no way of shutting these down. The only way to get players off of them is to provide a safer, legal alternative. According to McMaster, that’s the rationale in Nova Scotia:
People are gaming on sites quite literally from just about anywhere in the world. There’s no guarantee of payouts and there’s also, you know, very little in the way of protections […] It exists without us and if we have a presence, well at least maybe we can protect people and recoup some of the money that’s leaving our province.
Which Canadian Provinces are Still Without Legal Online Casinos?
However, most provinces have – or will soon have – access to government-operated online casinos.
Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta each have their own lottery-operated iGaming site. Manitoba has struck a deal with BC to allow its residents to use the latter’s site, PlayNow, even though they buy their physical lottery tickets from the Western Canada Lottery Corporation.
With ALC’s games now available in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, only Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland have been left without legal online casinos.
Saskatchewan’s situation will only last until November. That’s when it will open its site on the same PlayNow platform as BC and Manitoba. However, it will be operated separately because the province has decided to assign online gambling privileges to the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority.
PEI and Newfoundland now face the same decision Nova Scotia has just made. If they don’t want to be left behind, they can follow suit and authorize ALC to offer the games to their residents. Otherwise, they can continue treating it as a matter of personal responsibility for their residents to decide whether to abstain or take their chances with the black market.