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Province says iGaming Ontario should protect gamblers, provide more choice

'Although regulations may be a useful tool, it is not something that works for everyone,' says CMAH official
2021-07-08 Gambling
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A new online gambling marketplace, controlled by the province, is a good bet to do more good than harm says the Canadian Mental Heath Association’s Simcoe County Branch (CMHA-SCB).

Announced Tuesday, iGaming Ontario is billed as a safe, regulated and competitive online gaming market to help protect consumers and provide more choice while ensuring a level playing field for new businesses.

Maria Figliuzzi, clinical team lead of the CMHA-SCB’s addiction program, says it recognizes there are a variety of platforms available for online gambling.

“As such, having iGaming Ontario may be very helpful for some choosing to online gamble,” she said. “This is a strategy we acknowledge can be very beneficial for some people and we support the government in this initiative.

“It is important to understand, as with any new initiative, that we need to proceed with caution and recognize that this may work for regulating some individuals, but not for all,” Figliuzzi added. “Supports are available for individuals dealing with gambling addictions and although regulations may be a useful tool, it is not something that works for everyone.”

Ontarians spend nearly $1 billion annually on online gambling, the province says, with an estimated 70 per cent taking place on unregulated, grey market websites, with limited if any consumer protection and responsible gaming measures. Many players who access these sites are unaware they are unregulated.  

But Attorney General Doug Downey says iGaming Ontario will help ensure measures are in place to protect consumers.

“Following Parliament’s historic vote to lift the prohibition on single-event sport wagering last month, the establishment of iGaming Ontario is another pivotal milestone in our work to ensure people have access to a safe and regulated online gaming market by the end of the year,” the Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP said in a July 6 news release.

“We are determined to work with industry, responsible gaming advocates and regulatory partners to ensure Ontario is a world leader in building a safe online gaming environment that meets consumer expectations,” Downey added.

Downey also discussed single-event sports betting in a recent interview with BarrieToday.

Figliuzzi said this could also help discourage behaviours that lead to problem gambling.

“Implementing this regulatory system, doesn’t ‘encourage’ gambling, but allows people to gamble in a safe and controlled manner,” she said. “From a harm-reduction perspective, this is very useful to implement. Awareness is a key factor in helping communities develop supports and services that individuals can access.

“Implementing safety measures along the way can be very helpful for individuals who gamble and may have a positive outcome on the potential of gambling becoming problematic,” Figliuzzi said. 

The CMHA-SCB offers gambling, substance use and mental health services. Figliuzzi said during the last two years there have been approximately 420 contacts in its gambling program - although the agency doesn’t beak that number down into online, casino, lottery, etc. gambling.

The government says iGaming Ontario will be a new subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). This will provide consumers with more choice in iGaming products while ensuring a safe online environment that minimizes the risks for players.

“Ontario’s new legal iGaming market will create new opportunities for Ontario businesses and a better, safer gaming experience for players,” said Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, also in the July 6 news release.

“A competitive, regulated online gaming market will provide a safer alternative to the unregulated, grey market websites that currently exist – and which may lack proper consumer protections or responsible gaming measures,” he said. “A new legal market would also generate revenue for the province to invest in supporting jobs and businesses, supporting people and their families, and improving and strengthening critical public services for a post-COVID world.”

The new iGaming Ontario marketplace is expected to be operational in December 2021.

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