Nova Scotia

Opposition takes aim at online gambling promotion from Atlantic Lottery Corporation

Tory MLA Murray Ryan says it seems like the Crown corporation is targeting people who wouldn't otherwise gamble online.

People offered $20 voucher to sign up for new online account

This flyer from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation offers people $20 for starting a new account. (CBC)

Tory finance critic Murray Ryan says a new promotion from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation amounts to dropping breadcrumbs in front of people who wouldn't otherwise choose to gamble.

During question period on Friday, the Northside-Westmount MLA raised the issue of a flyer that recently went out in the mail promoting online gambling and lottery tickets.

The flyer includes a voucher for $20 for anyone who sets up a new online account. People who register receive subsequent promotional material in the mail.

Ryan told reporters it seems like the Crown corporation is targeting people who wouldn't otherwise plan to play online.

"It's like, 'Here's free money, here's the website to go to,'" he said.

"Whereas without that voucher, without that coming in the mail, [many] Nova Scotians would never go looking for it, would never come across it."

Questionable intentions

The lottery corporation recently received approval from the provincial government to go ahead with the establishment of an online casino, a decision that has drawn criticism from anti-gambling advocates and those who treat people with gambling addictions.

Lottery officials have said the site will come with a variety of player protections and features to promote responsible gambling.

They say the move is intended to counteract the popularity of gambling websites based outside the country that aren't regulated and don't return money to the Nova Scotia government coffers.

But Ryan speculated that the move is more about the bottom line, pointing out that the closure of bars, restaurants and casinos for much of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected gambling revenues.

"This could have been done years ago if it was truly just, 'We want to set up something that's safe, secure and gamblers don't have to worry because their information is rock solid,'" he said.

Government not consulted on promotion

In an interview, Health Minister Zach Churchill said his department was not consulted on the website promotion.

The minister said his department has heard some concerns about the flyers and he said they would be passed along to the Crown corporation.

Churchill said he and department officials are focused on ensuring supports are in place for people who might need help related to gambling problems.

"We do have 24/7 support available for folks and they can call, text or chat online anytime," he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill called the promotion inappropriate. He said it represents poor judgment, in particular because it's coming during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required many people to spend more time at home.

"If there was ever a wrong time to be incentivizing a program such as this, this would be it."