Should Alberta Legalize Private Online Casinos?

The Case for Legalizing Private Online Casinos

Canada is one of the world’s top betting nations, which is perhaps slightly odd given its relatively restrictive approach to private online casinos. After all, if Canadians are betting online, isn’t it preferable that their losses become tax revenue in Canada rather than overseas?

Canadian Casinos and Playing Online in Alberta

Due to licensing restrictions the number of onshore betting opportunities for Canadian players is a bit more limited than in other countries. Of course, there are the incredibly safe provincial casinos, which includes the newly released Play Alberta Casino that residents in Calgary can use. This site in particular has some great slots by IGT along with some classic table games. However, for Canadians who want some more variation which includes a wider variety of sports betting, it’s hard to beat the plethora of offshore online casinos that are now available. The problem is that these international gambling houses aren’t helping to contribute towards the Canadian economy.

Casinos Helping Charities and Non-profits

From a player perspective, there’s plenty to like about casinos in both real world and online formats. Some players prefer the decision-making of blackjack, others like the complex gameplay mechanics of the latest slots, while some love the convenience of mobile gaming. But there’s more to casinos and related betting events, such as bingo, than just glitzy settings and seeing if Lady Luck smiles on you.

Domestic, onshore casinos are more reliable for players because they’re governed by Canadian laws. On top of that, their location means that they pay tax in Canada (as well as providing Canadians with employment). Looking at things more locally, many charitable and non-profit organizations host casino and bingo events as fundraising efforts, allowing participants to have a great time secure in the knowledge that they’re either going to finish ahead or their ‘losses’ actually amount to donations to a good cause.

The Pandemic Effect

Unfortunately, these types of events have been especially hard hit by the global pandemic of COVID-19. As one would expect, casinos and the like were among the first to close and last to reopen from lockdowns, and it’s always possible subsequent waves of the disease will force similar measures to be imposed again. To get an idea of the scale, Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis indicates that 2018 saw $347m raised by close to 20,000 charitable organizations. The majority of this (70%) came via casinos, with the remainder sourced from bingos, raffles, and pull tickets. For example, the Edmonton Columbian Choirs (representing a quartet of choirs) normally puts on 14 bingos a year and had plans in 2020 for a casino event, with money raised helping out with membership fees for those who could not otherwise afford them.

Passing laws can mitigate the impact of COVID-19, but normality can only be achieved once a vaccine is brought about. In the meantime, it seems perverse that online betting is widely accepted in many countries (even the US is starting to be more open to it than Canada), but Albertan non-profits and charitable organizations find it more difficult to host online versions of charitable events to make up for pandemic-related shortfalls in funding.

Increasing Access to Betting

It’s no surprise that players like to bet, whether that’s the social side of bingo, the tension of cards in the casino, or dreaming of mammoth lottery wins. There’s been a general trend across the world of rising public desire for and access to betting.

In Europe and, increasingly, the United States this has seen online casinos and bookmakers/sportsbooks enter the market. This has been a great success in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom where numerous leading international brands have established themselves and gained traction overseas. From a Canadian perspective, the problem with this is that tax revenues generated by these firms then go to the UK treasury.

In Alberta, early 2020 saw the decision to increase access to real world slot machines, which are now accessible on a 24 hours a day basis (the same as poker). This decision, taken by Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis, does raise an obvious question: if Canadians can access slots and poker 24/7, why not allow it at private online casinos? Other countries have shown the model is perfectly feasible. Indeed, the US has typically lagged behind Canada when it comes to opening up to betting, but this time the reverse is true. It doesn’t benefit Canada one jot if Canadians are playing cards at US online casinos, or making sports bets at US sportsbooks.

Pros of Allowing Private Online Casinos

This isn’t only a matter of freedom of choice for players, the incongruity of allowing many brick-and-mortar casinos but few domestic online ones, or the economic benefits for Canada through increased tax returns, though all those factors are valid reasons for Canada generally and Alberta in particular to allow private online casinos to operate. The fact is that the black swan event of COVID-19 has hit lots of communities and charitable groups hard. Bingo and casino fundraising events cannot take place when social distancing measures are enforced and, as mentioned above, such activities will always be the first to be prohibited and last to be permitted.

Unlike pandemics of the past, from the Black Death of the 14th century to the Spanish Flu of the early 20th, the internet provides us with great benefits, from staying in touch with loved ones to learning the latest news on the state of play regarding the healthcare situation. Allowing online casinos and other betting activities online would help to ensure fundraising events can continue for non-profit and charitable organizations. Local moms are helped out by Made by Momma but this charity has had to cancel 2020’s planned casino event. And if these cannot occur in person, they should be permitted to occur online.

From the perspective of private citizens, collecting tax, and supporting charities, it makes sense for Canada to facilitate easier access to private online betting at casinos. Whether that will happen, and when, remains to be seen.