The two huge Bet99 banners at last weekend’s YQM Country Festival in Dieppe were hard to miss.
What was unusual was, technically, the Ontario-based gaming website can’t legally accept wagers in Atlantic Canada.
The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) took notice and are trying to create awareness among the public about the abundance of illegal online and unregulated gaming operators.
ALC president and CEO Patrick Daigle said they’ve noticed an increase in advertising in the marketplace here.
“These are operators that are not regulated. They don’t pay tax in our jurisdiction,” said Daigle. “They don’t have a license to operate here and as a result the criminal code is clear, this is illegal activity.”
What’s got ALC concerned is profits generated by outside gambling sites don’t stay in the region to go towards health care, education and road work.
Atlantic Lottery estimates $170 million leaves the four provinces through play on the illegal and unregulated sites.
“Our research tells us that two-thirds of Atlantic Canadians aren’t aware this activity is illegal because they’re seeing such a proliferation of advertising and they’re seeing sports celebrities advertising these products so their belief is they are legal here in Atlantic Canada and they just simply are not,” said Daigle.
Atlantic Lottery is the only legal and government regulated gaming and sports betting provider in the region.
But industry expert Dave Briggs believes those gambling regulations are unrealistic and outdated.
“Yeah, I actually think they are. I mean, there’s truth in what ALC says. They are the only legal operator in that region, but the reality is Canadians have been gambling illegally for upwards of 20 years on online sites around the world,” said Briggs. “That money is a lot to the people of the Maritimes that’s not being retained there. It’s not going to problem gambling resources that need money.”
Briggs, the managing editor and writer for PlayCanada.com said ALC has a valid argument about money staying in the region, but lost revenue to other sites could be re-captured through legalization and tax.
“There’s a healthy, thriving Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation and all of their proceeds go back to the province. The tax revenue from the outside operators goes back to the province as well, so it’s kind of a win-win,” said Briggs.
He also recognizes operators like Bet99 shouldn’t be encouraging people to gamble illegally here through advertising.
“So, there’s a bit of a grey-area, but really it’s also up to the festival not to take advertising from companies that are illegal where the festival is being held,” said Briggs.
CTV News reached out to the promoter of the YQM Country Festival, but messages were not returned.
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