The British Columbia Lottery Corporation wants to give players the ability to gamble from their smartphones or computer tablets, but critics fear the government is trying to recruit young gamblers.

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The British Columbia Lottery Corporation wants to transform its PlayNow.com website into smartphone and tablet apps. (BCLC/PlayNow.com)

Earlier this week, the BCLC put a call out for mobile app developers to design a system that will deliver its online gambling games to mobile devices.

The corporation said its PlayNow.com website wasn't designed for mobile devices, and a growing number of Canadians own smartphones and tablets. It said about 3,000 people already use devices such as the iPad to access PlayNow.com, and many more use mobile apps to gamble through unregulated online casinos.

NDP MLA Shane Simpson, the province's gaming critic, said many of those smartphone and tablet users are likely to be young — and possibly still teenagers.

'The notion of smartphones and an app, it seems to me, is very much targeted at young people.'—NDP MLA Shane Simpson

"The notion of smartphones and an app, it seems to me, is very much targeted at young people who are more inclined to gamble that way than they would be to go in a traditional casino," Simpson said.

"We don't have confidence that the government has put the kinds of safeguards in place to protect people who are involved in online gambling from getting into trouble."

Sandra Garossino, a former Crown prosecutor, spearheaded the successful effort earlier this year to kill plans for an expanded casino in Vancouver. She said the lottery corporation should address money laundering and addiction issues before building apps.

"All of this points to irresponsible and poorly thought-out processes inside B.C. Lottery Corporation," Garossino said. 

Meeting gaming demand

On Friday, Michael Graydon, the president and CEO of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, defended the decision to go mobile.

Graydon said the corporation is meeting a demand that already exists.

'We're not creating the channel. We are responding to a channel that exists today.'—Michael Graydon, CEO of BCLC

"A majority of the 2,000 websites that are illegally operated in this country and accessible here in British Columbia have mobile applications today," he said.

"We're one of 2,000 —  the difference being that a lot of the safeguards around age verification, responsible gaming and those types of components are forefront in our site.

"So we're not creating the channel. We are responding to a channel that exists today."

BCLC has said that people who self-exclude from PlayNow.com won't be able to access the app.

BCLC's request for proposals for mobile application development closes Oct. 7. The app is expected to launch next spring. 

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor