Ontario iGaming: Exploitation of the Vulnerable

March 28, 2023

By Tim McCauley |

$11.53 billon dollars. That’s the total of wagers Ontarians placed through iGaming services in the financial quarter from October 1st to December 31st. $457 million is the amount of revenue received by the Ontario government. Easy money for the government, it would seem. But at a great cost to many people who become regular gamblers and lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The Ontario government legalized on-line gambling and sports betting on April 4, 2022. The government explained the reasoning behind legalization in a report by the Attorney General in July 2021. “Ontarians spend close to $1 billion a year on online gambling with an estimated 70 per cent taking place on unregulated, grey market websites, with limited, if any, consumer protection and responsible gaming measures . . . That is why the government is creating a competitive market for regulated online gaming in Ontario . . . ensuring a safe online environment that minimizes the risks for players.”

The government argues that legalized iGaming is meant to protect consumers. No mention is made of the potential revenue accrued by the Ontario government, which could amount to $2 billion a year. Nor does the government specify how legalization protects consumers. One can argue that legalization actually makes consumers more vulnerable. The government currently allows 78 different independent gambling websites to operate in Ontario. Advertisements for iGaming are ubiquitous and overwhelming. An Ipsos poll in January found that nearly half of Canadians (47%) agree that “the amount and volume of advertising is excessive and needs to be cut back.”

The flood of advertisements has accomplished its purpose, to lure thousands of more people into the fantasy world of gambling. It is a world of deceit, where promises of making money actually produce the opposite result. Casino-based gambling is the worst form of iGaming. Playing on-line slot machines, for example, guarantees you will lose money in the long run. Rationally, every person and every gambler know these facts. But that is the whole lie behind gambling. A person thinks that he or she is the exception. Some magic is on their side. Other people may lose, but they have the lucky charm that will help them win.

The tactics of on-line betting companies are seductive. For example, if you sign up with Fanduel, they immediately give you $50 worth of free credit to begin your betting. Then, approximately once a month, they offer a freebie, a bet that you are almost sure to win. They regularly send their customers a bet proposal. For instance, in a recent game between Pittsburgh and Colorado, you could bet that Crosby would get 2 points and MacKinnon one goal. Bet $20 and win $120. What is the harm of betting $20? It’s just one easy click on your phone. But if you start betting $20 regularly, you could be out of pocket hundreds of dollars at the end of the month. Of course you win a few, which keeps you betting even though logically you know you are losing more money than you are making.

The government of Ontario is mired in contradictions. In one sense, they have shown concern for the financial difficulties of Ontarians who have less disposable income due to inflation, increased gas prices and the higher cost of food. For this reason, they reduced the provincial tax on gas, and also eliminated the fee for license plate renewals.

But some of same people they have tried to assist are also those who will encounter more financial difficulties by losing money through iGaming. This is not an appropriate or productive means of increasing provincial revenue. It amounts to an exploitation of the vulnerable. It is too late to turn back the clock, but the government can and should impose some restrictions. As mentioned, the innumerable advertisements for iGaming companies are impossible to ignore . The government could ban such advertising, just as the Canadian government generally prohibits advertisements for marijuana. One could also hope that an independent think tank would do a study on the dangers of iGaming, and that this information would be widely disseminated to the public.

Beyond that, it is the responsibility of individuals, families and social networks to inform themselves and others of the dangers of on-line gambling, and for people to find other sources of entertainment and excitement that will not empty their pockets, leading to more monetary woes, and in some cases, financial ruin.

photo attribution: kalhh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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