Alberta is close to becoming the second Canadian province to launch online gambling

Judging by details in Alberta’s annual budget, published on February 29th,  it is only a matter of time before the province follows in Ontario’s footsteps and opens a regulated online commercial sports betting and casino operators. The provincial budget included an announcement that CA$ 1 million would be spent on an online gambling review.

Photo by Kelly Hofer on Unsplash

Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction (yes, that really is his title), Dale Nally, has been tasked by the province’s premier, Danielle Smith, to work with Indigenous partners to scope out, develop, and implement an online-gaming strategy. CAN$1 has been allocated to support a review of the Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Act to reduce the regulatory burden on business. In addition, the province is investigating ways in which contributions to Alberta’s communities and charities can be increased. The focus is on responsible gaming and revenue generation for the province and indigenous communities.

In a statement to the press, Nally said,

Alberta can be a leading hub for igaming, with a strong emphasis on openness and a free market. We have low corporate taxes, streamlined regulations, and high disposable incomes. These conditions will allow us toestablish ourselves as a premier destination for the igaming industry.”

These do not sound like the words of a man who is shying away from getting the market fully regulated, and it is hardly surprising. Canadians love to gamble, and the Albertan Treasury is missing out on a substantial chunk of revenue by not fully embracing the opportunities. Six out of ten Canadians gamble. Expecting them to only do so at land-based venues or at ‘monopoly’ Play Alberta’s igaming platform is unrealistic.  Residents do not need to look far afield to see what Alberta online casinos offer  they already have a great choice of licensed platforms with good customer support for Canadian players.

You could say that gambling is engrained in Calgary’s make-up and society. Church bingo and horseracing were first recorded here in the 1920s, and these were followed by sweepstakes, lotteries, and gaming machines over the following decades. Temporary casino exhibitions popped up at summer fairs throughout the province. In the 1980s, Calgary’s Cash Casino opened, and then Edmonton’s Casino ABS – both permanent charitable casinos. By 1995, these had been joined by nine others and had started to transform into the luxury establishments that can be found nowadays. Currently, there are twenty-seven bricks-and-mortar casinos in the province, with Edmonton and Calgary having a dozen between them.

The next step is all but set in stone and is a question of when and not if.  So what is next? It is likely that the more Ontario demonstrates the value of a fully-regulated online market, the more Alberta will move towards doing the same. When Alberta throws open the doors of its virtual casinos and sports books, so the pressure will mount right across the country for all the provinces to follow suit. The question is whether Alberta will be the tipping point or if that has already happened, with Ontario being the catalyst for commercially operated online gambling nationwide.  It is probably quite dependent on election results and political will.

The next province to hold an election will be British Colombia. There has been intense security here about possible money laundering at the province’s casinos with a report, Dirty Money, undertaken by Dr Peter German. For now, the province is focussing on implementing the report’s recommendations.  However, as the report opens with the following quote by William R Eadington from 1990,

“… the fundamental requirement for success for any form of commercial gaming is a strong regulatory base to provide a strong environment, both legal and economic, which has the potential of attracting long-term financial capital, and which has the potential of generating a profitable environment for those operations”,

it seems that regulation is key to what happens next there. However, until the election results are clear, the administration will likely be tinkering around the edges rather than launching a brand-new initiative.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition, which includes operators like Bet99 and Draft Kings, is lobbying hard for an Ontario-style model to be introduced. They commissioned GeoComply to look more closely into the online gambling habits of the province’s residents.  The research showed that 72% of the players on Loto-Quebec’s Espace Jeux platform only go there to buy lottery tickets, and 73% opt to play on privately operated online casinos and sportsbooks. Only 27% use Loto-Quebec for sports betting and online casino games. However, the government has indicated that they are happy with the current ‘monopoly’ model. However, a 2026 election could change all of that; particularly if Alberta has climbed on board by then.

It is hard to ignore what is happening in Ontario, iGaming Ontario’s most recent figures show annual gaming revenues of over CAN$ 2.4 billion. The second year’s figures were over 70% higher than the first. What is significant is the number of people who have switched to the regulated market. Ontario’s Attorney Doug Downey is on record as saying,

“As this made-in-Ontario igaming market celebrates its second anniversary, we’re very pleased to share that 86 percent of players are now participating on regulated sites. This is another pivotal milestone in our ongoing work to provide players and businesses with a strong, competitive, and safer online gaming environment that meets consumer expectations. We look forward to iGaming Ontario’s continued success as a global innovator, as a job creator that sustained more than 12,000 jobs in its first year of operation, and as a leader in the online gaming space.”

While the vast majority of players can enjoy gambling with no problems, there is a small percentage who are affected by potential gambling harms. The concept of a regulated market is to provide young and vulnerable people with protection from gambling-related harms without hampering the enjoyment of the vast majority of the population.

The general consensus of the Western World is that this is often best served by providing a safe, regulated market rather than putting onerous restrictions in place.