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British Columbia recently announced an expansion of its online gambling operations. ((BCLC))

The Ontario government is getting into the online gambling business.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) will have an online gaming program set up by early 2012, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I've asked the OLG to explore how it can best extend its brand online through a socially responsible and secure internet gaming program," Duncan said.

"Consultation and implementation will occur over the next 18 months."

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The OLG promised a competitive process in which private operators can bid to operate the province's gaming sites.

OLG officials said they haven't decided yet what type of gambling they'll offer, but poker is high on the list. Other types of attractions could include online lottery ticket sales, and interactive casino-style games.

The Liberal government, which has a $19.7-billion deficit, estimates online gaming could net the province $100 million or more in profit annually within five years of being set up.

When asked if a $100-million annual return is enough to put a serious dent in the deficit, Duncan acknowledged "the initial figures are fairly modest."

"But in my way of thinking, it's more about the competitiveness of OLG going forward and ensuring that it continues to be a reliable source of revenue for the province," the minister said.

Estimated $400M spent on online gambling

OLG Chair Paul Godfrey said at the news conference that the gambling program will "offer Ontarians a safe, regulated and fun option for playing games of skill and chance online."

The OLG estimates that Ontarians spend approximately $400 million each year in unregulated online gambling — with none of that money entering government coffers through taxation or fees.

"In its current form, internet gaming in Ontario does not return proceeds to this province," said Godfrey.

"It does not create jobs here. It does not offer ways to protect minors or ensure they're not gambling online. It doesn't offer tools to support players to control and limit their play."

Potential players will have to register on the site before playing, Godfrey said. The OLG also said it will offer age and identity verification software to protect players.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission will regulate the new program.

Glitches in B.C. system

Ontario joins a growing list of provinces that have adopted online betting — including the Maritimes and British Columbia.

Meanwhile, the Quebec government is expected to introduce online betting in September.

Last month, British Columbia expanded its regulated online gambling operations, which include a plan to open North America's first government-run online poker rooms later this year.

But the launch of B.C.'s online casino was marred by a glitch that forced the province's lottery corporation to shut the website down almost as soon as it was running.

Dozens of gamblers were able to place bets with other users' money and, in some cases, were able to see the other person's account balance and personal information.

The embattled B.C. Lottery Corporation didn't reveal the privacy breach until five days later. The province's privacy watchdog is now investigating. 

OLG is promising secure transactions and data privacy when its online gambling program is launched.

With files from The Canadian Press