2/22/10 – Loto-Quebec has strongly defended its intention to join other Canadian provinces in entering the online gambling sector following complaints from public health authorities that such a move would lead to an increase in problem gamblers.
Regional public health officials had earlier claimed that research elsewhere indicated that there could be problems, and called for a 12 month moratorium on the Internet project until:
* Independent research had reported on the problem gambling dangers
* The formation of a National Assembly and Parliament Committee social ethics sub-committee.
* If these measures indicated a safe forward passage, a further two year transitional period during which Internet gambling licensed in the province was closely and independently monitored for adverse social effects, after which a further assessment would be made.
Health officials based their arguments on data from Sweden which they said illustrated that 52 percent of new online players at state-owned operator Svenska Spel had “never played on other sites before”, and that 20 percent of players on the site were said to be problem gamblers.
Loto-Quebec came out fighting with a public statement in which it said the conclusions drawn from a study conducted by Dr. Mark Griffiths – professor at Nottingham Trent University – are not even supported by the author of the research.
"Indeed, Dr. Griffiths acknowledges that the 2 500 participants in the study are not a reflection of Svenska Spel's entire clientele and, therefore, that the results of his study may not be used to draw conclusions regarding either the percentage of players who play only on Svenska Spel's site or the percentage of new players," the Loto Quebec statement claimed.
"It is therefore incorrect to assume that 52 percent of Svenska Spel players who play only on that Swedish site are new players.
"In addition, Dr. Griffiths believes that a linear relationship cannot necessarily be established between accessibility, increased numbers of players and the increase in problem gamblers. The framework for social responsibility measures implemented when gaming is introduced must be taken into account," the statement notes.
"Sweden is a good example, where the prevalence rate remained stable, before and after the introduction of online poker, at about 0.6 percent," the statement adds.
Loto-Québec pointed to a Swedish commission created in 2008 that conducted a study of 2 000 poker players (regardless of the Internet sites on which they played, which were determined in the study). The results of the study showed that the percentage of problem gamblers who played "other sites" is almost four times higher compared to those who played on the Swedish state's site (3 percent vs. 11 percent), and almost three times higher than that of players who played both on Svenska Spel's site and on an illegal site (3 percent vs. 9 percent).
"It is surprising that this information was not cited by the regional public health spokespersons at the various media events in which they have recently participated. Public health officials appear to rely on the analysis of only a selection of available literature," the Loto-Quebec statement claims.
The state-owned gambling company went on to deplore the tone used by regional public health officials "all too often", and their alarmist scenarios [that] end up never materialising, citing the example of the notice they had issued before gaming halls were implemented in 2007.
"Regardless of what the regional public health officials say, it should be noted that Quebeckers currently have access to over 2 000 illegal and unregulated gaming sites that are of dubious integrity," the rather sweeping statement alleges. "Loto-Québec wants to channel the gaming offer in a controlled, safe environment with irreproachable integrity."
The company went on to give the assurance that it would use its internationally recognised expertise in responsible gaming and implement a number of control and prevention measures, particularly with regard to player age verification, establishing weekly deposit limits, as well as offering players the opportunity to exclude themselves.
In addition, before putting its online gambling offerings online, Loto-Quebec would be "submitted to a review of its internationally recognised responsible gaming measures," and would be monitored in terms of a February 3rd decision by the provincial Quebec government.