Does Halifax Need a Regulated iGaming Market?

Canada is on the verge of an iGaming revolution in 2022 with new regulation sweeping across the provinces enabling each government to issues licenses to private operators to take bets from customers residing within their territory.

This catalyst for this change was a change to the Criminal Code of Canada brought about by Private Members Bill C-218 which was passed last summer allowing single event sports betting within the country for the first time. Before now gamblers have only been able to place this kind of bet at offshore betting sites.

Ontario has led the way, opening up a fully regulated market for private operators to enter under license from iGaming Ontario. This will go live on April 4th 2022 and already big names like theScore have been issued with a license to take bets.

It seems inevitable that other provinces will follow. Indeed, British Colombia has also indicated that it is preparing the framework for licensing.

But is a regulated gambling market right for everyone? And should Nova Scotia and Halifax be excited by the opportunities it brings?

Here we look at some of the pros and cons of legal online casino and sports gambling so that you can make your own mind up.

The Arguments For a Regulated Gambling Market in Nova Scotia

Tax Revenues

The big win for the government of Nova Scotia is a windfall in taxes. Currently anyone gambling online in the province is gambling at online casinos like these, typically licensed in European jurisdictions like Malta and Gibraltar. Tax on revenue from wagering is collected by the governments of those states. If we were to license operators within our own borders, tax could be collected here.  This is vital at a time when public finances have been hit by the pandemic.  Ontario are taxing betting revenue at 20% of gross.

Player Protection

Whilst gambling is a casual form of entertainment enjoyed by many, there is always a risk that some players fall victim to problem gambling. As an example, you only have to look at the UK, one of the world’s biggest regulated markets. Problem gambling there has become a bigger issue over the last decade and debate is currently raging over how to balance stricter regulation to protect against addiction with individual freedoms to bet as you wish.

The advantage of regulation in Nova Scotia would be to give the government the ability to establish their own rules around responsible gambling. For example, under the terms of licensing the regulator can set limits on how much a player can deposit, wager and lose and ensure betting firms stick to these limits.

More Choice For the Consumer

Currently, anyone wishing to gamble online in Nova Scotia must play at offshore casinos and sportsbooks if they are prepared to do so. By regulating the market and bringing operations onshore, the government would be providing consumers with a wider choice of betting websites, and importantly ones that they can trust with a licensing stamp from their own government.

The Arguments Against a Regulated Gambling Market in Nova Scotia

Problem Gambling

We have already mentioned how gambling and addiction always come together. Problem Gambling rates in the UK are currently at around 0.4% (June 2021). This figure has come down and stabilised in recent years thanks to measures introduced by the UK Gambling Commission. However, it still represents a significant number of people and sounds a warning to Canada’s provincial governments of the damaging impact that gambling can have on people’s lives even in a regulated market.

Introducing licensing and responsible gambling requirements for operators can help to mitigate the risks but it is inevitable that some parts of the population will be affected. The impact of inviting betting firms into the province and raising the profile of gambling must be considered in the debate over regulation.

The Impact on Offline Casino Businesses

In Ontario, last minute objections to the regulatory framework were made by Great Canadian Gaming who run a significant number of offline casinos in the province. They say that a new influx of online casinos will cannibalise their own business as consumers move their betting spend online. Great Canadian Gaming have asked for exclusive rights to the online market for two years to mitigate these losses.

Whilst their cries for help have fallen on deaf ears, the impact of a significant growth in online gambling over the next decade on the bricks and mortar industry will not be known until it happens. Those deciding whether Nova Scotia should follow in Ontario’s shoes might want to consider the impact on places like the Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax. Will local jobs be lost as players stay home to gamble online?

Indigenous Interests Overlooked

And finally, it is not just Great Canadian Gaming who have tried to block Ontario’s move to a fully regulated gambling market. In the last week, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and the Six Nations of the Grand River have joined together to sign a Co-Operation agreement aiming to protect their own rights to facilitate iGaming in Canada.

Mohawk Online, owned by the Council of Kahnawake, is a sportsbook and casino operation that takes bets from players across Canada. The growth of a fully regulated Canadian market impinges on the indigenous people’s ability to make money from their own gambling operations, licensed from their own jurisdiction – the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Nova Scotia must decide if it is comfortable forsaking reconciliation and the rights of indigenous people for its own gambling market.

The Verdict

There are strong arguments on both sides in the debate on gambling regulation. But the final outcome might well come down to the following consideration. Online gambling is already happening across Canada, only it is happening through websites owned by firms who are licensed and pay their taxes outside the country, allowing control and finances to be relinquished to foreign interests. It is this that has led Ontario to conclude that regulation to bring gambling onshore is the way forward. It is likely that in the next year or two Nova Scotia’s own government will reach that same conclusion.

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