'Casino 101' advertisement 'absolutely inappropriate,' says P.E.I. finance minister

A 2021 study on P.E.I. suggested that nearly nine per cent of the Island's population was at some level of risk from gambling. (CBC - image credit)
A 2021 study on P.E.I. suggested that nearly nine per cent of the Island's population was at some level of risk from gambling. (CBC - image credit)

An online advertisement for a P.E.I. casino's instructional event has been called "absolutely inappropriate" by the province's finance minister.

The ad, which was removed from the Red Shores Racetrack and Casino website, promoted a "Casino 101" event planned for Saturday night at Red Shores, where people in attendance would learn how to play the various games offered at the facility.

But the promotion raised swift concerns it was not in line with the Island's responsible gaming strategy.

The issue was first raised by Opposition and interim Liberal leader Hal Perry on Tuesday in the P.E.I. Legislature. He brought it up again Wednesday to ask what action the government had taken.

Finance Minister Jill Burridge agreed the advertisement was "off the mark of what we would expect through the responsible gambling strategy."

Burridge told the legislature her department contacted the casino's operator, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC), with her concerns. By Wednesday, the event was no longer advertised on the casino's website.

"What they're looking to do is, it is a public education piece where they're going to talk about the risks of gambling, odds, et cetera," Burridge said. "They're not looking to pull in new gamblers into the picture."

The ad in question was removed from the Red Shores Racetrack and Casino on Wednesday. (Red Shores)

'Communicate how the games work'

An official at Red Shores told CBC News on Wednesday the event is still scheduled to go ahead as planned, despite the ad's removal.

On its website, the ALC says "responsible gambling is one of Atlantic Lottery's core values." According to its since-deleted advertisement, the "Casino 101" event offers participants a chance to "learn to play our casino games," and is free to attend.

It includes the logo for PlayWise, an ALC program to promote responsible gaming and, according to the corporation's website, "provide the tools and information to help keep it fun" and "communicate how the games work."

But Perry said he is especially concerned in light of a 2021 study on P.E.I. that concluded nearly nine per cent of the Island's population faced some level of risk from gambling, with people aged 18 to 35 particularly vulnerable.

"We all know that gambling is a very serious social problem here on Prince Edward Island," Perry said, "and we know that gambling revenues are rising sharply under this government."

According to P.E.I.'s Gaming Centers Control Regulations, "The Corporation shall not promote advertising or publicity that gives a person an unrealistic perception of a player's chance of winning."

Likewise, the ALC website commits "to ensure our advertising is factual and not oversell the winning experience, encourage over consumption, or depict gambling as an investment.

P.E.I.'s finance minister said Red Shores was "not looking to pull in new gamblers." (CBC)

Province to study youth gaming, pandemic impacts

The controversy over the advertisement came as Health Minister Mark McLane said the province plans to hire a youth-gaming specialist, who will research youth and gambling on the Island.

McLane added another study has been commissioned to look at how COVID-19 impacted Islanders' gambling problems. The results of that research are expected by early May, he said.

"I know anecdotally, with people being home without access to many other activities, we did see an increase in online gambling," McLane said. "When we were all locked in our homes, we turned to lots of vices during that time — and gambling was certainly one of them."

He said the province and the Atlantic Lottery Corporation are committed to responsible gambling.

"We know that people want to gamble," he said. "It's important that we do it in a safe way, and that responsible gambling strategy outlines the plan to do so."