The Manitoba government's foray into online gambling, PlayNow.com, has at least one recovering gambling addict worried that others could easily get hooked.

About 4,000 Manitobans have registered with PlayNow.com since the province launched the site in January.

mi-playnow-logo-1303

Manitoba Lotteries launched PlayNow.com in January in a bid to keep some online gaming revenue in the province. Officials estimate that Manitobans spend upwards of $40 million a year on unregulated offshore gambling websites. (CBC)

Operated by Manitoba Lotteries in partnership with the British Columbia Lottery Corp., the website aims to compete with popular unregulated gaming sites where Manitobans spend a total of $40 million annually.

Safeguards do exist on PlayNow.com to combat problem gambling, including mandatory budget limits and a voluntary self-exclusion feature in which gamblers can agree to have Lotteries bar them from the website and its casinos for a period of time.

But even with those safeguards in place, the government-run website worries Marie, who recently quit gambling after 16 years of playing bingo and keno in casinos.

"I think online gambling, for those poor people who will use it, is deadly," she told CBC News.

"We're very good at hiding. We're very good at being secretive. And now you're putting gambling online? Well, they can lay in bed with their credit card and gamble to their heart's content."

New addicts?

Tracie Afifi, an addictions researcher with the University of Manitoba, says she's worried PlayNow.com may attract new players who could then become addicted.

"Some people who would not gamble on unregulated sites will start gambling on this site because it will be perceived as safe, because it's regulated by the government," she said.

mi-marie-gamblers-anon-coin

Marie, a former gambling addict, holds a coin she recently received as part of her recovery process. (CBC)

"So I think it will introduce a new type of gambling for some people, and it may become problematic."

Studies by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba show that while the amount of online gambling in Canada has doubled recently, problem gambling rates have remained stable.

Research has also shown that of those identified as problem gamblers, a greater number of them say they have gambled online.

But Michael Ellery, another addictions researcher at the University of Manitoba, said gambling addicts are likely going to be playing on a variety of platforms anyway, from websites to video lottery terminals.

"So there's nothing uniquely harmful about online gambling. It's just that these gamblers will gamble on — and they are gambling on — just about every other kind of activity already," Ellery said.

In British Columbia, which has had a government-operated gambling website for years, the rate of problem gambling has remained at about 4.6 per cent.

But recovering gambling addicts like Marie, who is now part of a recovery support group, argue that even if websites like PlayNow.com do not create more addicts, it could worsen the addictions of those who already have a problem.