Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) has opened an online casino in New Brunswick without public consultation. This virtual casino was rolled out quietly as a pilot in the summer of 2020 and ALC aims to expand to other Atlantic provinces.
The online casino is noteworthy for allowing very high stakes wagers. Patrons of the online casino may bet up to $500 per hand of blackjack and $100 per spin of a slot machine. To put the size of those wagers into perspective, one hand of online blackjack typically takes less than one minute which means that someone could potentially bet tens of thousands of dollars per hour on blackjack alone. The potential outlay of bets for online slot machines is even higher. One spin of an online slot machine takes mere seconds. At $100 per spin, a gambler could easily wager $50,000 per hour on slot machines.
Those amounts are eye-popping and most Canadians would undoubtedly consider them outrageous sums to wager on games of chance. Although the majority of Canadian adults report gambling in some form in the past year, most of that gambling participation involves low risk, low stakes, low frequency forms of gambling such as lotteries and raffle tickets. According to a 2018 report on gambling and problem gambling in Canada (Williams et al., 2020), the average annual gambling revenue per Canadian adult was approximately $500.
That means the proposed online casino in Nova Scotia would allow a wager on a single hand of blackjack that is equivalent to the commercial gambling revenue typically derived from one adult for an entire year. Furthermore, research by Williams et al. demonstrates that a disproportionate amount of gambling revenue is derived from problem gamblers. Therefore, the most vulnerable people would be targeted by a new gambling venue that allows such high stakes betting.
Compounding this problem is the current situation with health-mandated shutdowns contributing to mental health concerns including social isolation, depression, and anxiety. With gambling revenues down during the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial gambling corporations are seeking new ways to generate profits and, surely, they are aware that they have a captive audience of prospective online gamblers.
Consequently, allowing such high stakes online gambling would not only target individuals who are most susceptible to gambling problems but also those who may be in a precarious mental state that could exacerbate harmful gambling behaviours. One strategy for reducing gambling involvement is to avoid gambling venues. However, this harm reduction approach becomes impossible when gambling is easily accessible at home as an online casino.
As reported by CBC News, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation is considering the expansion of this high-stakes online casino and promises that any online gambling options available to Nova Scotians will allow for safe and responsible betting. However, it is difficult to envision how that might occur given the exorbitant betting limits and precarious circumstances that Nova Scotians are facing during the pandemic.
Having 24-hour access to a high-stakes casino in one’s home while coping with mental health issues is a recipe for disaster. Such a casino may do well to generate profits but it would do so at the expense of the wellness of Nova Scotians.
We ask that the provincial government avoid participating in this online escalation of potential harm to its citizens. We encourage other organizations, particularly those which serve vulnerable populations, to express their concern to the Premier and their local MLA.
Will Shead, Ph.D., René Peltekian, RSW, & Bruce Dienes, Ph.D. for the GRINS Board