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Openbet appears to be powering what is claimed to be North America’s first government regulated online casino – Play Now.com.
Thursday’s news that the Canadian province of British Columbia is to launch the first government controlled internet casino in North America has been confirmed by statements from Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman, whose office oversees the British Columbia Lottery Corporation.
Coleman said that the BC provincial government could no longer "stand on the sidelines" and lose revenue to the hundreds of off-shore websites available to residents to gamble money, often illegally.
"The hard reality is this - that activity is not going away,” he said. The province is trying to close an expected Cdn$1.7 billion budget shortfall, although it has emphasised that its main objective in legalising online gambling is to protect players.
"British Columbia may be the first jurisdiction in North America to offer games, but I can predict that it won't be the last," Coleman told a ceremony in Vancouver launching the Playnow.com site.
The global online gaming industry generates Cdn$20 billion in revenues annually, with British Columbia residents thought to be gambling Cdn$100 million online annually, according to provincial lottery officials.
Casino revenues will go into the province's general fund. Canada, in general, does not tax money won through a lottery or from recreational gambling. British Columbia's web casino will only take bets from provincial residents.
British Columbia confirmed that it has worked with lottery officials in Quebec and Canada's Atlantic provinces, which have expressed interest in offering online betting on games such as craps, poker and roulette.
Lottery officials said their site would offer a safe alternative to unregulated private sites, which may not reveal the true odds of winning. They have estimated that online gambling is growing 20 percent annually.
One of the most vociferous Canadian opponents of online gambling, Dr. Jeff Derevensky of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviours at McGill University, was among the first to criticise the new venture.
“It’s our governments that are the most addicted to gambling,” he told National Post reporters.
“They’re addicted to the revenue. There is no great social consciousness. This is a money-making operation, that’s quite clear.”
Loto-Quebec has announced that its online gambling initiative, powered by GTechG2 for poker and Openbet for other games will launch in the fall.
The lottery corporation expects this new site to counter the thousands of illegal gambling websites that already exist, and forecasts that it will make an estimated Cdn$50-million by 2012.
The gambling website will be launched in partnership with the Atlantic and B.C. lottery corporations. The website will be available throughout the three regions, but it will be up to each corporation to cater it toward their province, according to an Atlantic Lottery spokeswoman.
These big bets will mean big profits for the corporations, said Dr. Derevensky, who estimates that the online-gambling industry is worth about $12-billion a year worldwide.
Other provincial lottery corporations are continuing to adopt a wait-and-see policy with online gambling.
“Nothing has been written off forever, but we have no plans to do that,” said Kevin Van Egdom, with the Western Canada Lottery Corp., which oversees gambling in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
The Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corp., has already spent a “considerable amount of time” investigating whether it wants to pursue online gambling,” said spokesman Rui Brum. “No decision has been made,” he said.
John Kennedy FitzGerald, the CEO of the Vancouver-based Interactive Gaming Council, said he hoped this is the first step toward national regulation of the industry and not an attempt by the government to monopolise the sector.
“It’s a natural progression for governments to be more involved,” he said in Toronto. “At least we have the government saying they recognise the industry and know it’s here to stay.”
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