03/04/2012 : CANADIAN ENFORCEMENT HAS MORE URGENT PRIORITIES THAN ONLINE GAMBLING
Uncertain law and more urgent priorities among law enforcement agencies are the reason Canada has not followed the US example
Online players and industry observers have often expressed astonishment at the extraordinary lengths to which American federal enforcement agencies as disparate as the Department of Justice and the supposedly terrorism-focused Department of Homeland Security seem prepared to go to stamp out online gambling, despite a clear demand for the pastime and so many more urgent dangers to the nation that merit attention.
The Vancouver Sun newspaper in Canada appears to be similarly puzzled, and this weekend published an article examining why Canadian enforcement has not followed the example of its southern neighbour in pursuing the many online gambling operators offering services to Canadian punters.
"The ongoing crackdown by American authorities against foreign operators of online gambling sites begs the question: why haven’t Canadian authorities done the same?" asks the newspaper before setting off in pursuit of answers from various experts.
In Canada, only provincial governments are permitted to operate online gambling sites. Yet, there are an estimated 2,000 offshore gambling sites accessible to Canadians, who are apparently pouring large amounts of money into them.
The expert conclusion is that Canadian law is not sufficiently precise on internet gambling, with legal opinion divided on whether the law is being breached at all. Tnere is also a sense that enforcement bodies have far more important national imperatives to pursue than chasing after a pastime that is manifestly a popular and private choice of Canadian citizens.
Coming in a week that has seen Black Friday-style indictments and domain seizures against Canadian-born Calvin Ayre down south, the article illustrates the stark contrast in attitudes between Canadian and American lawmen.
The Vancouver Sun estimates that Canadians are currently wagering up to Cdn$4 billion annually on offshore gambling sites, even though the Criminal Code appears to rule that only provinces may legally run lotteries or betting games on the Internet.
Paul Burns, vice-president of the Canadian Gaming Association, has another possible reason for the lack of enforcement interest; he told the Sun: “There hasn’t been a huge public outcry. There’s a high level of acceptance of offshore operators in Canada.”
Burns claimed there is frustration within the industry over this legal grey area. "Either you enforce the law or create a framework to regulate these offshore sites," he said. "Canada has so far chosen to do neither."
And he added that his association would welcome moves by lawmakers to legalise and regulate offshore operators, which would provide better protection to Canadians and give clarity to the situation.
One academic noted the practical difficulties only too familiar to American law officers: are players to be prosecuted for an activity in the privacy of their own homes and if so how? How do you exercise jurisdiction over an operator who is in another country?
Currently only Quebec, British Columbia and certain Atlantic provinces permit online gambling, with Ontario due to enter the field this year. As provinces become more involved there could be a push for more enforcement, for commercial as well as moral reasons.
“When economic interests begin to come into play, maybe that will be the greater incentive to deal with the offshore sites,” the law professor commented. “Dollars may drive the decision in the end.”