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Canada - Alberta Entertaining Bids for Online Gambling Contract

March 25, 2015

As part of a special analysis by the CBC news site, an examination has been conducted as to whether online gambling really makes sense from a financial standpoint.

It is recognized that there are some benefits to the provinces, especially inasmuch as they have an opportunity to take prevent money from going offshore. And there is, one supposes, some positives attached to the idea of consumers being "protected," if that is indeed what is happening. Which provinces are involved? Well, Ontario is the latest, having gotten involved with its own online casino in January. And now Alberta is getting ready to get into the act.

The gambling regulation board is entertaining proposals from companies that would like to become involved as the exclusive operator in the province.

According to Bill Robinson, who is the head of the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission, it was the logical way to go. "There's quite a heavy play in Alberta … that's money that goes offshore, that's money that leaves Alberta, and also [offshore] sites don't offer the same type of experience that we're hoping to provide Albertans in terms of security."

Maybe so. But maybe not. Those who had advocated for this kind of government-controlled gaming have tried to sell it, in part, on the idea that going offshore was somehow a dangerous thing. But has that really proven to be the case for the most part? After all, how could an industry exist if it was notorious for that kind of behavior?

Well, the pitch for the legislators is that Albertans are sending money into these operations - to the tune of $120 million to $150 million per year. It has been suggested by some economists that the money the province may hope to bring in might be an additional $75 million or so. However, at the same time the question is brought up as to whether that same amount of money may have wound up in government hands through some other means.

And what if there is some kind of residual negative effect; that is to say, what if there is an impact on other industries that outweighs the benefits? In other words, as government interests maybe encouraging people to gamble, are they at that point indirectly encouraging it to be taken away from other businesses?

Robert Williams, from something called the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, believes that casinos "cannibalize" other industries and that the so-called "social harms" associated with it are greater than they are anywhere else.

No doubt the debate will rage on.

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