News

OLG optimistic about new gaming site

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

OLG (Toronto Sun files)

OLG (Toronto Sun files)

TORONTO - 

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is pleased with the level of interest so far in its new online gambling website, Tony Bitonti says.

“This interest doesn’t equal people signed up to play as of yet,” Bitonti said in a recent e-mail. “We have a few steps to take before we get to player registrations.”

In an upbeat e-mail last week to its most loyal customers — the Winner’s Circle Rewards members — the lottery corporation offered a sneak peak at the new site, PlayOLG. There’s no date yet set for when everybody will be able to try their luck on the website.

“Blackjack, roulette, slots and a whole lot more. PlayOLG provides a safe and fun environment where you can play your favourite games at your leisure,” says the e-mail, obtained by the Toronto Sun. “Plus, for the first time in Ontario, you will be able to legally purchase Lotto Max, Lotto 6/49 and Encore online.”

The OLG says it will randomly select Winner’s Circle Rewards members who have signed up by Nov. 18 to give the site a try throughout an early access period.

“And don’t worry; Everyone who opts in will be included,” the e-mail says.

It’s estimated that about 500,000 Ontarians spend $400 million to $500 million a year on so-called “grey market” online gambling sites that are based outside the country.

Critics of these offshore sites say not all do enough to discourage underage gambling, payouts can be slow and sometimes the entire enterprise vanishes.

“It’s a huge industry,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said. “Many Ontarians are accessing online and we’re putting forward some measures to be more socially responsible, ensuring that we have some oversight in terms of what’s happening.”

The Ontario government is hoping to bring in $350 million over five years by offering a safer, sanctioned form of Internet gambling.

The British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC) opened an online casino in 2010, the first province in Canada to plunge into Internet gaming.

According to the most recent data posted online by BCLC, only $17.8 million of $1.1 billion in net gambling income in 2012-13 came from Internet gaming.

The bulk of the revenue flowed from traditional casinos and community gaming centres ($829 million) and from lotteries ($280 million).

The BCLC service plan says e-gaming remains a “relatively small part of our business but it is definitely a growth area” four years after its launch, and there are plans to leverage PlayNow.com across all channels and devices to improve the return on investment in technology.

Ontario NDP MPP France Gelinas said professional staff and face recognition software in land-based casinos discourage underage, problem, intoxicated and ill gamblers but there’s no such controls on Internet gaming.

“If there is a youth that has access to a credit card, the amount of damage that can be done, the amount of families that will find themselves in ruin, in conflict, in problems, because of what the government is doing is inexcusable,” she said. “This is not the way to go.”

The OLG says it has developed a number of tools, including age verification, to keep underage gamblers off the site.

Ensuring that online gamblers are of age is a key reason why Ontario is offering an alternative option to existing sites, Sousa said.

antonella.artuso@sunmedia.ca

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