Therapist worries new online casino will draw in people that wouldn't otherwise play


A counselling therapist with a specialty in gambling is concerned the launch of an online casino for Nova Scotia by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation will lead to more people playing the games and increased problems.

Last week, the Nova Scotia government signed off on the process to develop and permit the use of the casino-style online games. Officials with ALC and the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation have said the move is necessary to counteract the growing prominence of offshore websites that don't have consistent safety features and don't return revenue to the province.

The ALC has estimated the websites cost it as much as $100 million a year. A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation said that estimate isn't considered a dollar-for-dollar loss, but rather an estimate of revenue missed based on certain products not being offered here.

In an email, Jillian Moore said the website would include player protections such as age and residency verification, privacy controls, self-exclusion options, deposit limits, time displays, analytics on player activity and tips and links for information on responsible gambling.

Safer than offshore

"Atlantic Lottery's offering presents, what we understand to be, the lowest maximum bets of any regulated lottery in Canada, the lowest maximum bet by 60 per cent when compared to the lowest Canadian jurisdiction," said Moore.

"With respect to some unregulated/illegal sites, Atlantic Lottery's lowest maximum bet is, in some cases, 17 times lower."

But Elizabeth Stephen, the Halifax-based counsellor, said a key difference between the offshore sites and the ALC website is prominence. The ALC website already benefits from high traffic and advertising, she said. Stephen believes those facts, and the perceived legitimacy of the website being endorsed by the government, will lead even more people to begin playing the online casino games.

"Many, many Nova Scotians already use this site and now they're adding a very high-risk gambling product," she said in an interview.

Stephen said she sees a contradiction between the government having a moratorium on new physical video lottery terminals and supporting a new feature for the ALC website that essentially puts access to a VLT in everyone's hands.

"The timing of this is interesting," said Stephen. "I personally feel it's because they've lost revenue and they're looking for a new way to make up that revenue."