The P.E.I. The government is pushing preparations for the launch of an online casino through Atlantic Lottery Corporation and has no plans to consult the public on the matter.
According to P.E.I. Treasury Secretary Darlene Compton, who is also the head of the P.E.I. Lottery Commission, the provincial gambling authority.
"Part of the reason we have an Atlantic Lottery Corporation is so that, in turn, they can conduct any research necessary to ensure that the provinces are making arrangements of all kinds in a safe and regulated manner," Compton said in an interview with CBC News.
"So it is ALC's responsibility to ensure that the consultation is carried out and this has been done for this product."
When CBC News spoke to Atlantic Lotto CEO Chris Keevill in January, he said it was not up to Atlantic Lotto to decide whether the public should be drawn into a discussion of a new government-run virtual casino – that such discussions would fall within the purview of the provinces themselves.
N.B. The website went live in August
Atlantic Lotto quietly opened a virtual casino for New Brunswick in August 2020 without posting a media release stating the site went online.
The new company came about after a decade of trying and failing to get one of its shareholders – the four Atlantic provinces – to come up with the idea of opening an online casino.
P.E.I. Treasury Secretary Darlene Compton says a new provincial-approved online casino will allow islanders to play in a safe, regulated environment. (Kirk Pennell / CBC)
The P.E.I. Cabinet approved a plan for a virtual island casino site three days before Christmas with no formal announcement or indication that the issue was back on the government's radar.
But as opposition parties on P.E.I. Calling for a public discussion of the potential harm in starting an online casino – especially at a time when people are spending so much more time at home due to COVID-19 restrictions – Compton said further consultations are "another Shift "would be what ALC has already done.
Province Can Make Gambling Safer: Compton
Compton said she believes the pandemic has attracted more islanders to gamble online through offshore locations. According to the ALC, residents of the four Atlantic provinces spend $ 100 million on these locations each year.
"When people do it, we need to make sure that it is regulated and that we can put all of these safeguards in place to make sure the islanders do it safely," Compton said.
"As a province, we can regulate how much the stakes are. You can control how much time you play, how much you spend. … None of these things happen to offshore locations."
However, the opposition MLAs have raised concerns that a Crown company's entry into the online gambling market will encourage more P.E.I. Resident gambling, and that could lead to more cases of addiction and distress among families already in the midst of an economic crisis.
Reckless decision, say the Greens
"There are many things you can buy online if you have a credit card," said Trish Altass, health critic for the Greens. "That doesn't mean the government should promote or benefit from all of them."
Altass said she agreed with ALC that it was up to the province to initiate a public discussion of the potential merits and risks of such a website before launch.
Opposition health critic Trish Altass calls it "ruthless" for the government to launch a new gambling website during a pandemic when many islanders are already struggling with mental health problems and access to treatment may be limited. (Kirk Pennell / CBC)
"It seems pretty reckless to make a decision about opening up online gambling when we know that many islanders are already struggling to get support for addiction problems," she said.
The opposition Liberals have also spoken out against this move, and MLA Heath MacDonald has put his name on the list of former P.E.I. Treasury ministers who have been introduced to this idea by ALC over the years but rejected it.
The two opposition parties used their combined majority vote on the province's Standing Committee on Health and Social Development to call witnesses to speak on the website, including an expert on gambling addiction due out Friday.
Compton himself has been asked to appear before the committee, but it is not clear when or if it will take place.
P.E. I ask about "low end" betting limits
Compton told CBC it didn't know when the virtual casino could launch, but ALC has announced that it will do so in the first half of 2021.
The P.E.I. The government says Atlantic Lotto was advised that the P.E.I. "Would require betting and deposit limits that are at the lower end of what is allowed in Canada," but that these issues are currently between the ALC and the P.E.I. Lottery commission.
A legislative committee plans to call witnesses to speak on the website. (CBC)
According to the province, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick already operate virtual casinos.
The New Brunswick website allows players to wager up to $ 100 per round of a virtual slot machine – 40 times the limit for physical VLTs in that province – and up to $ 500 on a virtual blackjack hand.
But Compton said ALC has P.E.I. The average bet on New Brunswick is less than two dollars.
Atlantic Lotto has awarded the P.E.I. The government could generate $ 750,000 in profits in the first year of operation after paying the cost of the online site, including some development costs.