The B.C. Lottery Corporation launched its online gambling website Thursday morning. (BCLC)

The B.C. government has launched a major expansion of its online gambling operations — including a plan to open North America's first government-run online poker rooms later this year.

Minister for Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman made the announcement Thursday morning along with officials from the government-owned B.C. Lottery Corporation.

Coleman said BCLC will expand its existing online gambling website, PlayNow.com, to include betting on casino games, bingo, sports, lotteries and other games, with the aim of generating about $100 million in revenue.


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The casino games offered on the expanded site include slots, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and craps, with plans to add peer-to-peer poker later this year.

Coleman said the global online gambling industry is worth about $20 billion, and the province wants to recover the estimated $100 million B.C. residents spend on illegal online gambling websites operated offshore.

"We want to ensure that money gambled in B.C. stays in the province to benefit B.C.," said Coleman.

Last year, the province generated about $34 million in revenue from its online gambling operations, roughly one per cent of its overall gambling revenue, which includes casinos and lotteries.

Gambling addiction concerns

The expansion comes amid questions about the effectiveness of self-exclusion programs for addicted gamblers. This week the CBC first reported a Delta woman was suing the BCLC over claims the lottery corporation failed in its promise to keep her out of casinos.

The NDP's Shane Simpson says the government needs to do more research on the impact of gambling.

"We need to look at what's occurred in other jurisdictions. How have they approached this? What are the best practices? How are they being modeled? I've seen no evidence that that research has been done by the lottery corporation."

The lottery corporation says its self-exclusion program for compulsive gamblers also applies to its online gambling website.