The business of online gambling is booming in Canada, but some provincial lottery corporations feel they're missing out on a big chunk of the winnings.
Organizations in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Atlantic Canada are working together as a coalition to bring attention to illegal gaming websites, as offshore operators advertise in their jurisdictions and poach potential profits.
"[We] make greater awareness of the issue of the onslaught of advertising when it comes to sports gaming that has come about in the last period of time," said Steve Lautischer, executive vice-president of business operations with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC).
The online gambling offerings in Alberta, which include sports betting and virtual casino games, launched in September 2020 through the website PlayAlberta.ca. But it wasn't until federal changes in 2021 that betting on individual sports games became legal in Canada.
Citing research conducted in June 2022 by market data company H2 Gambling Capital, the coalition of gaming agencies said the online gambling market in Canada is currently valued at $3.8 billion and expected to grow to $6.2 billion by 2026.
However, that lucrative market carries risk to the individual gambler who may be unaware they are accessing illegal sites rather than regulated platforms, according to Lautischer.
"It's certainly a significant problem.... In Alberta, we estimate somewhere between $400 and $500 million annually is spent with unregulated i-gaming offers," he said.
Advertisements can be incessant, appearing frequently during televised sports games and sometimes while people browse the internet on their computers or phones.
While its goal is not to directly dismantle these illegal markets operating outside Canada's borders, the coalition hopes players can pay close attention to where they're going as more could be at stake by betting through an illicit source.
"Just because something is presented to them, they should still be cautious and careful about where they're sharing their personal information, their banking information, how they're participating so that we can protect our citizens," said Lautischer.
Risk and reward
Legal or not, advertisements for online gambling have become extremely prevalent. Viewers of sports games can be inundated with such marketing, enticing them to place bets from the comfort of their own home.
This can come with a possible risk of more people developing addictive behaviour.
"You can access online gambling 24/7. You don't necessarily have the social effects of being with friends or other people that might limit how much someone gambles," said David Hodgins, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary and head of the school's Addictive Behaviours Lab.
Provincial governments have a responsibility to provide certain safeguards on their gambling sites to try and prevent addictions, according to Hodgins.
"The safeguards that are available on provincial sites involve the ability of people to restrict their gambling. So, either by pre-committing how much they're willing to spend or even banning themselves from some gambling for temporary periods of time," he said.
Those safeguards are likely not a available on illegal sites, the psychology professor said.
Hodgins sees value in the coalition not only trying to reduce the amount of illegal gambling sources but also setting clear guidelines for advertising.
"We do that for other potentially addictive substances," said Hodgins. "And it's always a kind of changing situation based on what the public is comfortable with, but there are efforts made to regulate [advertising] and we need the same for gambling."
AGLC agrees advertising standards have to be a crucial focus for the regulated market moving forward.
"They're our citizens. We want to make sure they are protected when they participate and [that] they participate in a moderate way," Lautischer said. "We all certainly conduct ourselves with that moral license."