PEI

P.E.I. government defends plan to offer online casino

The P.E.I. government said it told Atlantic Lotto to halt a series of online and television ads offering Islanders $20 to gamble on its website, as opposition MLAs pressed the province’s finance minister Wednesday over plans to launch an online casino.

Finance minister says it should be regulated like liquor and cannabis

Finance Minister Darlene Compton answers questions about P.E.I.'s online gambling strategy during a standing committee on health and social development Wednesday. (CBC)

The P.E.I. government says it has told Atlantic Lotto to halt a series of online and television ads offering Islanders $20 to gamble on its website, as opposition MLAs pressed the province's finance minister Wednesday over plans to launch an online casino.

Green and Liberal MLAs have already voiced concerns about the plan, approved by cabinet in December, for P.E.I. to follow New Brunswick's lead and allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation to operate an online casino for Island residents on the province's behalf.

Finance Minister Darlene Compton was invited to appear before the province's standing committee on health and social development Wednesday, giving MLAs their first chance to question the minister responsible for lottery revenues in the province — which lasted nearly two hours.

Compton told the committee P.E.I. needs to join the growing number of provinces in the country that offer online casinos as a measure to draw Islanders away from gambling on illegal, offshore websites.

Expense of low-income Islanders

"The public are doing this, and I think it's really important that we as a province take the responsibility, as we did with liquor and cannabis, to provide regulated, safe consumption."

But, echoing what the committee was told last week by an expert on gambling addiction, Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker suggested P.E.I.'s financial gains would come at the expense of low-income Islanders who are problem gamblers.

"Somebody has to lose in order for P.E.I. to make money," he said, "and all of the studies show that that person is more likely to be a low-income Islander, that that person … is more likely to be a problem gambler."

Among the questions and concerns put forward by MLAs at the committee meeting, were repeated questions around how the province would regulate advertising for its online casino.

Opposition MLAs were critical of an ad offering $20 to spend at alc.ca. (Atlantic Lottery Corporation)

That's when Stratford-Mermaid MLA Michele Beaton brought up a recent television and online ad campaign where Atlantic Lotto has been offering Island residents $20 in credits to gamble on its current website.

"We have no idea how many of those people [who received the ad] were recovering addicts," Beaton said. "I don't see us ever offering a $20 credit to the liquor store."

"We saw that ad and the minister sent notice to Atlantic Lottery that that's not to happen again," responded Jennifer MacDonald-Donovan, manager of policy, planning and regulatory affairs with the Department of Finance.

"They're not to try to incentivize with a cash bonus or credits." 

MacDonald-Donovan said the promotion is being pulled in Prince Edward Island and the television ads were to be off the air as soon as Thursday.

Responsible gaming strategy

MLAs also questioned the province's responsible gaming strategy, unveiled in 2008 under the administration of Robert Ghiz and, according to the current government, unchanged since then.

That strategy included a commitment to devote 1.5 per cent of the province's gaming revenues to responsible gaming measures. Records show in the 2019-20 fiscal year, the province committed $200,533 to the strategy. 

MacDonald-Donovan told the committee the province has upped that commitment to $300,000 per year, a figure that will also rise with the rate of inflation. The opposition has said that funding falls far short of what the province should be committing to reducing problem gambling.

MacDonald-Donovan said the province never followed through on one commitment in the strategy to create an advisory council on responsible gaming to oversee efforts to reduce problem gambling.

"It definitely is a priority to look at the strategy and how we move forward," Compton said, adding government would consider finally creating the advisory council.

More from CBC P.E.I.

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