Alberta quietly bets on online gambling, leaving only Saskatchewan in the digital dark

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis put out a request for proposals just this week and a handful of companies have already responded, expressing interest in designing a platform.

Province hopes to cash in on $358M that Albertans spend with offshore sites every year

Alberta is set to join all other provinces, except Saskatchewan, in licencing online gambling. (CP)

Alberta has quietly taken steps toward regulating online gambling, CBC News has learned, which would leave our eastern neighbour the final holdout.

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis put out a request for proposals to check the pulse of interested parties just this week and a handful of companies have already responded.  

It's looking for a developer that can put together a program that Albertans can use to gamble online on their computers or mobile devices.

Chara Goodings with the commission says residents are already spending a lot on gambling, but through websites outside the country.

"We estimate about $358 million is spent annually by Albertans on unregulated, unprotected gambling sites," Goodings told CBC News.

Currently, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces that don't offer a regulated service.

Every other province offers some level of online gambling. Atlantic Lottery is the most basic, licencing only lottery ticket purchases digitally.

A national industry association says there's confusion about the nature of international gambling sites. 

"Offerings coming from licences through provincial gaming corporations are the clearly legal route in Canada. Where the grey area has come in Canada law is the offshore sites. They are not regulated in Canada. They don't pay taxes which is a real concern," said Paul Burns of the Canadian Gaming Association.

"Most of the Canadian public honestly believe the offshore sites are regulated and pay taxes in Canada, about 70 per cent of the public think that."

Goodings says it's not a matter of validating the act of gambling.

"It's not about promoting more. This is about providing a safe place for them to gamble, then we can make sure they're getting the proper messaging and have the tools there to help support them," Goodings said

Alberta won't allow minors to gamble and plans to provide messaging about responsible use of the service, not unlike how it approaches alcohol and cannabis.

Players will be able to set time and spending limits.

The commission plans to choose a company by the summer and have the platform in place sometime next year.

With files from Jennifer Lee and Anis Heydari