Playing With Fire: Nova Scotia Shutters Gambling Awareness Program While Considering Legal Online Casino Gaming

Dreamstime/Andres Barrionuevo Lopez

Gambling Awareness Nova Scotia (GANS) is no more.
Nova Scotia’s Department of Health (DOH) quietly shuttered the non-profit, arms-length government organization in late 2020. Its functions were research, prevention, and awareness campaigns related to gambling addiction. GANS was responsible for receiving and distributing funds to support communities in their efforts to reduce problem gambling’s damaging effects.
Those funds come from a percentage of video lottery terminal (VLT) revenues, matched by Gaming Nova Scotia. The money, along with GANS’s core functions, have been folded back into the general coffer for Mental Health and Addictions at the DOH.
The move’s timing is being panned by critics. They cite the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Atlantic Lottery Corporation’s (ALC) plans to expand online casino gaming to most Atlantic provinces.
“This is the time when people are most vulnerable,” says Bruce Dienes, chair of Gambling Risk Informed Nova Scotia, a non-profit aiming to reduce harms associated with gambling, in a recent report by the CBC on GANS’s dissolution. “In the middle of COVID … isn’t there more of a need to do this prevention work and community awareness work?”
ALC adds casino games amid pandemic profit crunch
ALC launched online casino games in New Brunswick as a pilot project in August 2020. Six months later, spurred by falling profits, it is preparing to do the same in Nova Scotia and PEI. So far, there are no similar plans for Newfoundland.
The high stakes limits it has set have been the focus of much of the criticism. Currently, ALC’s online casino allows players to gamble up to $100 per pull on slots. One blackjack games allows bets of up to $500 on a single hand. By contrast, New Brunswick VLTs are capped at a maximum of $2.50 per spin.
ALC defends the higher maximums as necessary to compete against offshore sites. These operate in largely unregulated fashion and often have no limits at all. Nonetheless, those on the front lines of gambling addiction predict that the increased limits and new products will compound the problem.
Another CBC report on the proposed expansion included comments from Elizabeth Stephen, a Halifax-based therapist with over 20-years of experience treating gambling addictions. She says that the ALC’s online casino will further legitimize gambling. She fears it will attract players who would never brave an offshore site.
Stephen believes that if the provinces allow online gambling, the regulations should be even stricter than in person play. Since the opposite seems to be the case on ALC’s pilot site, she expects addictions to soar along with profits.
“From my perspective, the risks far outweigh the profits,” says Stephen. “Someone has to lose in order for us to make money.”
Stakes are high as federal government eyes sports betting
Stakes are exceptionally high as the federal government has seemingly changed its tune on sports betting. Members of the ruling Liberal minority now back the push to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada. They had previously resisted the call from opposition parties since coming into power in 2015.
To date, the only legal form of sports betting in Canada has been parlay tickets such as Pro-Line, offered through provincial lotteries. But, with the tabling of Bill C-13 by Minister of Justice David Lametti in late November 2020, it looks as though the Federal Government is getting closer to removing the federal prohibition on single-game wagering. The goal is to recapture some of the estimated $14 billion Canadians spend annually on sports betting on offshore sites.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Canadian gambling revenues, as it has across industries. A year in, operators and governments are feeling the pinch more than ever. Moreover, the nascent US sports betting market is growing explosively. This, in turn, is making it harder for Canadian casino operators to compete with cross-border competition, especially as states like Michigan enter the fray.
It’s a problem, however, that provinces are clawing back much-needed supports just as the Canadian gambling industry is set to explode. Online casinos and sports betting represent a huge opportunity. However, they come with additional risks. If provinces are going to pursue this opportunity, they have an obligation to mitigate those risks at the same time.
Provinces hedge their bets
Nova Scotia’s move to dissolve GANS isn’t the only example. In 2019, Ontario shuttered Gambling Research Exchange Ontario. As the name suggests, this organzation was dedicated to studying problem gambling. Doug Ford’s provincial government shut it down just as the province began its push to privatize online casinos.
More troubling still are recent legislative changes by New Brunswick (2019) and Nova Scotia (early 2020). These are designed to protect the government, its ministers, lotto corporations, and operators from class-action lawsuits and punitive damages related to gambling.
(The Nova Scotia Department of Health did not respond to inquiries about the shuttering of GANS, ALC’s proposed expansion, and changes to liability legislation).
One of the main advantages legalized, regulated gambling has over the black market is its potential to be safer for players and communities. Realizing that potential, however, requires that legislators and regulators take their responsibilities seriously.
If they fail in their jobs, even regulated markets can exhibit the same sorts of problems that plague the offshore industry. In Canada, such problems are already apparent in British Columbia, where lax government oversight of high-stakes betting opened the door to money laundering.
The goal is to build a sustainable gambling industry, both retail and online. Doing that means striking the correct balance between profitability and harm reduction. Increasing government revenue through legal gambling is good only so long as some of that money goes towards addictions support, awareness and other initiatives.
To get there we need industry and regulators to work together to raise the bar, not lower it. If we can do that, we may all win.

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The DC Lottery Becomes The First To Jump Aboard The Online Lottery Trend In 2021

Dreamstime/Celso Diniz

Washington D.C. is the latest jurisdiction to have begun offering instant online lottery games, and the third in the past year.
Its supplier is IWG, short for Instant Win Games. IWG also powers online lotteries for New Hampshire and Virginia.
The games first appeared on January 18, but it seems to have been a fairly soft launch. There has been little in the way of official communications about it from the DC Lottery, save for a couple of low-key tweets.

Have you tried iLottery? Visit to register today. #LotsOfPeopleWin
— DC Lottery (@DCLottery) January 29, 2021

The DC iLottery currently offers entries to two interstate draws – PowerBall and Mega Millions – as well as the e-Instants. The former are identical to their retail equivalents.
The instant games vary in presentation, with some resembling physical scratch tickets, and others feeling more like online slots. There are currently 11 games on offer. These include one custom title, DC Payout, featuring the lottery’s own cherry blossom logo as a bonus symbol.
Such custom titles are a unique selling point for IWG. Its first such product in the US was for the New Hampshire lottery last summer, and has proven quite successful.
The DC Lottery joins seven state lotteries which already offer instant online games:

New Hampshire
Rhode Island

In addition to these, another six states offer online sales of draw tickets, either individually or by subscription. Other states lack online lotteries, but some permit third party companies like Jackpocket to take online orders and buy draw tickets on players’ behalf.
The DC online lottery has its own site, but it doesn’t feature prominently on the main lottery website. Rather, you’ll find it hidden away under the Games tab if you want to access it from there.
Skipping the lawmaking step
Most iLottery launches over the years have attracted more attention than DC’s, because they came about by way of a legislative effort.
Adding an online component to a state lottery is rarely complicated, legally speaking. Many bills have been as simple as inserting the words “including sales over the internet” or something similar into the original law establishing the lottery itself.
What we’re seeing now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that even that step might not be necessary.
Getting lawmakers to formally authorize an online lottery averts the possibility of legal challenges down the road. However, DC is the second jurisdiction to have skipped this step and allowed the lottery to authorize online games itself, through its own internal rule-making process. Rhode Island did something similar last summer.
As with Rhode Island, DC’s decision to add online lottery games – and to do so quickly – seems to have been sparked by falling retail sales during the pandemic. The Rhode Island Lottery did so through the same procurement rules it used to find a supplier for sports betting. The DC Lottery drafted new emergency rules to do so, which it issued on December 15.
These emergency rules are temporary, set to expire on April 14. Presumably, the lottery expects to issue final, permanent rules through normal processes in the meantime.
DC Lottery passes over its usual, controversial partner
Online instant games have generally been a popular addition wherever they’ve popped up. They’re easier to implement and less controversial than online casinos, and gradually growing in popularity. Michigan was an early adopter, and its online lottery sales had been increasingly steadily each year, even before the pandemic.
Assuming the reception is similar, it may be the first popular decision the DC Lottery has made in some time. Its reliance on Greek company Intralot as a technology provider has been the source of multiple controversies and a lawsuit.
Intralot’s relationship with the lottery goes back many years. Problems first arose when the Lottery chose to extend that relationship and award it a $215 million contract to supply online sports betting in the District, without going through a competitive bidding process.
That sparked a lawsuit from a local software developer, Dylan Carragher. That was dismissed in November, and sports betting has moved ahead unimpeded. However, its execution has also been problematic.
The biggest issue seems to be the unfavorable lines and limited markets Intralot offers. It and the Lottery presumably felt they could get away with a high hold because they hold an quasi-monopoly for online betting. The result, however, has been that Intralot’s product is losing out to private operators like William Hill, despite the latter only being able to offer retail betting and geo-restricted online betting in the immediate vicinity of Capital One Arena.
Those failures and criticisms may be the reason the DC Lottery went with IWG to provide its instant games. Intralot also develops such products, but there would have been immediate and predictable backlash had they been handed yet another no-bid contract following the sports betting fiasco.

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