Canada urged to gamble on Internet casinos

6/8/2001 (Tom Blackwell, National Post) TORONTO – Governments should stop trying to ban Internet gambling and face the fact the rapidly growing, Canadian-flavoured business is here to stay, delegates of an international online gaming conference heard yesterday.

That means provinces in Canada should set up Web casinos and offer their citizens a legal, regulated option to offshore sites that are outlawed here, said one e-gaming entrepreneur attending the Toronto convention.

“It is virtually impossible to prohibit online gambling,” said Darold Parken, chief executive of Chartwell Technology Inc., a Calgary software company that services the business.

“It’s a big industry. If the provinces aren’t able to participate in the industry, someone else will. The money won’t go into the coffers of the government of Alberta and the services the government of Alberta supports … They have an obligation to get in there and regulate.”

Internet gambling — in which Web surfers can play casino games, take their chances with virtual slot machines and bet on sports events — has doubled in size in each of the last three years, Sebastian Sinclair, a U.S.-based analyst specializing in the industry, told the summit.

The worldwide revenue should total at least US$3-billion this year, he said. Another analyst has projected it could be worth US$8-billion by 2002.

Canadian companies are at the forefront of the industry, running gaming sites and designing software that is used by the operators.

But Internet gambling is still effectively banned in Canada, United States and many other developed countries, so firms based in North America run their sites from Caribbean and South American nations that permit the practice. Critics say online casinos fuel compulsive gambling and allow children almost unfettered access.

In Canada, only provincial governments or their licencees can operate gambling venues. There is nothing to stop them from offering Internet gaming, said Hal Pruden, a Department of Justice Canada spokesman.

The Ontario government, the country’s largest gambling operator, has no plans to run Internet casinos, or to crack down on the illegal ones available to anyone with a personal computer and Internet connection, said Derek Tupling, spokesman for Tim Hudak, the minister responsible for gaming.

“We recognize the evolution of the Internet and we’re concerned about the growth of Internet gaming … [But] obviously, we can’t regulate the Internet. That’s impossible,” said Mr. Tupling.

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