Reports from The Star in Toronto indicate that the Ontario provincial
government is about to crack down on advertising for Internet gambling
- either direct or indirect.
The newspaper reports that online gambling is illegal in Canada with certain exceptions, and that the practice of advertising for the pastime will shortly be curtailed, if local politicians have their way.
The provincial government plans to move to close the loopholes in current legislation with a blanket ban on advertising of Internet gambling, direct or indirect. The ban will be part of an omnibus consumer protection bill to be introduced this week by Government Services Minister Gerry Phillips.
Aside from the claim by politicians that Internet gambling is highly addictive and too accessible, the province may have another reason to curb Internet gambling: It is cutting deeply into the government's share of the take from legal gambling at the casinos, lotteries and race tracks in the province.
The Star says it is hard to know exactly how much money is being drained away from legal gambling by the illegal sites on the Internet; estimates range up to $500 million a year in Ontario alone. But this much is known: Revenues for the government-owned Ontario Lotteries and Gaming Corp. (operator of the province's casinos) were down $335 million over the past three years and are forecast to drop another $210 million this year.
Border-crossing problems, the high value of the Canadian dollar, and growing U.S. competition share the blame for this. But there is no doubt that Internet gambling is a factor in the steady decline.
Some argue that Canada should simply follow the lead of other jurisdictions (Britain, for example) and legalize Internet gambling, with governments either operating the sites directly or regulating and taxing them. But there seems to be little appetite for this option in official Canadian circles.
The Ontario government, for one, has categorically ruled out involvement in the Internet gambling business.
The problem is that, while illegal, Internet gambling is hard to police, as the sites are based either offshore or, within Canada, at the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake, outside Montreal.
The United States Congress last month found a way to get at the offshore sites by passing a bill that makes it illegal for American banks to allow their credit cards to be used for online gambling.
Such action is beyond the jurisdiction of a province, however, as Ottawa is responsible for both the national Criminal Code and banking. So Ontario is focusing on advertising curbs for now.
But Phillips has written a letter to federal Justice Minister Vic Toews to express his concerns about Internet gambling and appeal to Ottawa to join the fight.
The letter, dated Sept. 28, has a plaintive tone to it as Phillips struggles to capture Toews's attention.
"The government of Ontario considers illegal Internet gaming to be a serious issue," writes Phillips. "It is clear, however, that illegal Internet gaming represents complex regulatory challenges requiring a coordinated effort by provinces and the federal government on several fronts ... I would ask for your support and continued engagement on this issue."
Toews has yet to respond to the letter.
Somewhat surprisingly - given that the federal Conservative government often takes its cues from Washington - a spokesperson for Toews explains that Internet gambling is not a "priority" for the justice minister.
So, the websites will continue to operate with impunity in Canada, but the advertising of them may soon be a little more difficult, at least in Ontario.
A footnote: Phillips's omnibus bill will also contain sections dealing with real estate fraud, outlawing termination dates on gift certificates, and modernizing the provincial archives.