MLAs from 3 parties question P.E.I. government's online casino plan
New site would raise revenues on ‘backs of our most vulnerable population,’ say Greens
On the first full day of the new sitting of the P.E.I. legislature, members of all three parties — including the governing Progressive Conservatives — lined up in opposition to the King government's plan to introduce an online casino for Islanders.
The provincial cabinet provided its authorization for the website on Dec. 22.
Atlantic Lotto had been pitching the idea to the four Atlantic provinces for a decade, with no takers until New Brunswick quietly opened its own site in August 2020.
Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker led off the first question period of the sitting Friday by suggesting much of the million dollars per year in revenues the site is expected to raise will come from low-income Islanders, asking the premier why his government is "intent on raising revenues on the backs of our most vulnerable population."
Premier Dennis King made the same case his finance minister had made in a recent appearance before the province's health committee, saying the province wants to bring Islanders who are already gambling on offshore websites into a safer, regulated environment.
"If Islanders are choosing to do gaming online, that they would do it through a platform that is regulated through Atlantic Lottery Corporation and not some of these bootleg operations," he said.
In those other services, he said, "all the resources and taxes go offshore and we can't figure out who's actually using the service and how we can help them if they need it."
Regulated gambling better: Premier
When asked who the province consulted before approving the new gaming site, King talked about actual bootleggers, suggesting they continue to offer up booze to Islanders through unlicensed establishments.
"I think we all would agree that there are still bootleggers in Prince Edward Island," the premier said.
My question was "Who did you consult with?" and the only group I heard in that answer was "bootleggers."- Peter Bevan-Baker
"I would prefer, if you are partaking in the purchase of liquor, that you do it through a regulated environment because it gives us a better opportunity to identify those who might have challenges, for example. It's the same thing with gaming."
"My question was 'Who did you consult with?' and the only group I heard in that answer was 'bootleggers.'
"So, maybe you consulted with bootleggers, I don't know, but you sure didn't consult with the people you needed to… We know that nobody from the mental health department of Health PEI was approached, which is astonishing given the negative impact that we know gambling has on vulnerable Islanders."
After Bevan-Baker's questions came a series from the premier's own party.
Tory MLA, Liberals also raise concerns
Backbench PC MLA and government house leader Sidney MacEwen expressed concern that those already struggling with gambling addiction would be vulnerable.
"That's a real concern for me. It's a concern for my constituents… if I'm a problem gambler and I've taken the steps to quit, and all of a sudden, I see it right in front of me: just log back in, just log back in," he said.
The Liberals also registered their concerns with the plan in the form of a motion calling for the government to "reconsider the potential impacts their decision could have on Islanders," increase support measures for problem gamblers, and delay any implementation of an online casino until those supports had been reviewed by a legislative committee.
Speaking to reporters after question period, King expressed a willingness to heed the call for more supports for problem gamblers and to review the province's responsible gaming strategy, unchanged since it was introduced in 2008.
"I think all of those things are important," said King. "We have to be realistic as a government that, if more and more resources are needed to help individuals who might be impacted we have to be ready to do that. And I am."