The Atlantic Lottery Corporation is preparing to expand a new online casino to residents of P.E.I. and Nova Scotia. This follows on the heels of access to New Brunswickers last August.
Now Liberal finance critic and former P.E.I. finance minister, Heath MacDonald, says this is a bad idea. Prince Edward Island’s standing committee on health and social development will investigate the mental health implications.
Participation has already been approved by P.E.I. cabinet. The provincial Department of Finance explained that its goal was to ensure residents “play in a safe and regulated environment.
According to MacDonald, the timing is so wrong. He has asked the standing committee to prioritize the matter. He is concerned about the online casino allowing large bets.
“We’ve just lived through nine months of a lot of anxiety, a lot of mental
illness, and the numbers are increasing daily. I think addiction was a topic of
many discussions for many people — all Islanders, many people, many families.
He added that one of the addictions is gambling addiction.
The committee has voted unanimously to call witnesses as soon as possible, including the provincial addictions coordinator and a researcher from UPEI, as well as a representative from public health. Of government sanctioned online gambling,
MacDonald commented that
‘We really have to take a serious look at what it can do to individuals and their families.”
New Brunswick residents are able to gamble up to $500 on a hand of blackjack or up to $100 on a single pull of a virtual slot machine. This 40 times more than the legal limit allowed for physical video lottery terminals in the province.
After years of being turned down, Atlantic Lotto maintains that now is the right time to launch its site. About $100 million is lost to offshore websites. MacDonald is adamant.
“To make a decision to bring forth this kind of alternative gambling is
simply wrong, and government should look at reversing its decision.”
He hopes that expert testimony will lead the government to agree with him. “It’s not very pretty and it’s not pleasant.” MacDonald also noted that he “didn’t want to have any part of it” when a similar proposal was pitched when he was P.E.I.’s finance minister.