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Canadian Response to Offshore Online Gambling

By: Shirley Spicer, Tuesday March 6th 2012
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Last week's indictment proceeding against Canadian-born Calvin Ayre in the United States along with the seizure of his defunct has once again raised the question often asked in Canada. When the authorities in the United States have gone to such extremes to act against offshore online gambling then why have the Canadian authorities adopted a more tolerant attitude. In Canada, only provincial governments can operate online gambling sites and there are very few that are actually doing so. At the same time there are about 2,000 offshore online casinos and poker rooms being accessed by Canadians. These online gambling sites specifically target Canadian players, and are making a lot of money without paying taxes in Canada. The amount wagered at these sites has been estimated at 4 billion Canadian dollars per year.

The Canadian newspaper, the Vancouver Sun published an article that highlighted probable answers to this vexatious question from experts in the field of online gambling. One hypothesis put forward was that Canadian law was not sufficiently precise on online gambling. A section of the legal experts claimed that the offshore online casinos were not breaching any Canadian law and therefore could not be prosecuted. Another viewpoint is that the enforcement authorities are devoting all their time and resources on issues they consider far more important.

Another line of thinking is that the opinion on online gambling is not as polarized in Canada as it is in the United States. In America you are either vehemently for online gambling or against online gambling. In Canada there has been no public outcry against online gambling. It is perceived as a popular and private choice made by a section of Canadian citizens. The only aggrieved party seems to be the Canadian Gaming Association. Paul Burns, vice-president, said, "Either you enforce the law or create a framework to regulate these offshore sites. Canada has so far chosen to do neither." He pointed out that legalization and regulation of offshore operators would provide better protection to Canadian players and give clarity to the situation.

There are practical difficulties in shutting down online gambling even if the will is there. It would be impossible to exercise jurisdiction over an operator who is in another country. Also there is the problem of acting against citizens for an activity carried out in the privacy of their own homes.

The Vancouver Sun concluded that the attitude of the authorities could change if significantly more provinces entered online gambling. The economic disadvantage of competing against unlicensed operators would then be brought to the fore. A law professor commenting on the situation said, "When economic interests begin to come into play, maybe that will be the greater incentive to deal with the offshore sites. Dollars may drive the decision in the end."

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