Nova Scotia rolls the dice on online casino

Nova Scotia's online casino went live Thursday on the Atlantic Lottery Corporation's website. (Atlantic Lottery Corporation - image credit)
Nova Scotia's online casino went live Thursday on the Atlantic Lottery Corporation's website. (Atlantic Lottery Corporation - image credit)

After years of pushing by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Nova Scotia has launched an online casino.

Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said the platform, which is accessed through the lotto corp's website, went live Thursday.

"We didn't want to make a big announcement about this. We're not trying to really promote it," he said in an interview.

"We just wanted to put it out there. It's up and running now and it's there for people who want to play."

MacMaster said the decision was made in recent days following months of discussion. Those talks included "extensive discussions" with his cabinet colleague Brian Comer, the minister responsible for addictions and mental health, and officials from Comer's office.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Through those talks, MacMaster said it became difficult to overlook how prevalent online gambling has become.

"People are gaming on sites quite literally from just about anywhere in the world," he said.

"There's no guarantee of payouts and there's also, you know, very little in the way of protections for people who, you know, may become addicted to them and have other problems with them."

Having a Nova Scotia-based operation means people in the province who want to gamble online have a safe and secure place to do so, said MacMaster. The website includes a link to so-called play wise tools, which can allow a player to limit the amount of time and money they spend on the site.

Expert expresses concern

But an addictions specialist says she's concerned the online casino could lead to more problems than it's worth.

In an email, Elizabeth Shephen said players who were having difficulty accessing websites based overseas could be drawn into the Nova Scotia website.

She said that online casino games and slots on the ALC site "will now attract people who would not have gambled on illegal/offshore sites."

"No one is addressing the highly addictive nature of online slots," she said, "and I'm not sure that any of this has been considered by the government or [the Office of] Mental Health and Addictions."

'It exists without us'

A Finance Department spokesperson said the provincial gaming corporation is projecting the website will generate $10 million in its first year, but MacMaster said that wasn't the deciding factor in approving the platform.

"What really drove it was the fact that it's out there," he said. "It exists without us and if we have a presence, well at least maybe we can protect people and recoup some of the money that's leaving our province."

Nova Scotia is the second Atlantic province to launch an online casino. New Brunswick made the jump in 2020. It netted $7.3 million during the first fiscal year in operation. Atlantic Lotto has been pushing for years to get the four provinces it covers onboard for online casinos, and renewed that push in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The P.E.I. government gave approval for an online casino in that province in 2021, but it has yet to launch.

Government will monitor the site

The former Liberal government laid the groundwork for a launch in Nova Scotia last year when it passed an order in council that would permit an online casino in the province.

MacMaster said it would be up to the government, in consultation with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, to monitor the website and how it is working.

"We're just starting this so we'll certainly be open to what we're seeing and making changes accordingly."