It would seem like good news that Alberta has seen a five percent increase in gambling revenue, but opponents of the province’s interest in legalizing online gaming call it bad news.
The revenue spike—about $25 billion in the last year—comes after a major upgrade to the province’s 6,000 video lottery terminals. The province’s gaming regulators say gamblers contributed over $1.2 billion after expenses in taxes.
The numbers come as the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is looking at proposals to create an online betting site that could add an estimated $150 million more in revenues each year.
But opponents of online gambling say the revenue figures for the video lottery terminals show problem gambling is a major issue for the province.
“The data shows that 3 or 4 per cent of the people who play these machines are problem gamblers and they generate upwards of 40 per cent of the revenues,” Garry Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta who researches the social and economic aspects of gambling told the Calgary Herald. “The money from video slots is addictive for governments, but they should also remember the large social cost that often manifests itself in financial ruin and suicides.”
The commission’s 2013-14 annual report points to a two-year upgrade all 6,000 video lottery terminals in the province as a factor as gamblers now have access to the “best content and hardware.”
Smith said the gaming industry is constantly coming up with products that will induce people to play longer and bet more.
“There is a science to getting people to keep on going even though they are losing,” he said. “Until now, we’ve restricted these video slots to casinos and bars, but now the AGLC seems to want to introduce a product that will let people sit at home in their pajamas all day and gamble.”
Meanwhile, the gaming commission continues to study the issue of online gambling legalization and the experiences of British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec, which have already regulated and licensed online gambling.
Recent reports speculate that the commission is leaning towards going forward with online gambling regulation, but no action has been taken.