Nova Scotia rolls the dice at the online casino

After years of pressure from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Nova Scotia has launched an online casino.

Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said the platform, accessible through the Lotto Corp website, went live on Thursday.

“We didn’t want to make a big announcement about it. We’re not really trying to promote it,” he said in an interview.

“We just wanted to get it out there. It’s live now and it’s there for people who want to play.”

MacMaster said the decision was made in recent days after months of discussion. Those talks included “in-depth discussions” with his cabinet colleague Brian Comer, the minister responsible for addictions and mental health, and officials from Comer’s office.

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster said he made the decision days ago to approve the launch of the online casino. (Robert Short/CBC)

Through these discussions, MacMaster said it has become difficult to ignore how widespread online gambling has become.

“People play on sites literally from anywhere in the world,” he said.

“There are no guarantees of payments and there are also, you know, very few protections for people who, you know, may become addicted to them and have other issues with them.”

Having a Nova Scotia-based operation means people in the province who want to gamble online have a safe and secure place to do so, MacMaster said. The website includes a link to so-called smart play tools, which can allow a player to limit the time and money they spend on the site.

The expert worries

But an addiction specialist says she fears the online casino is causing more trouble than it’s worth.

In an email, Elizabeth Shephen said players who have difficulty accessing overseas-based websites may be drawn to the Nova Scotia website.

She said online casino games and slots on the ALC site “will now attract people who wouldn’t have played on illegal/offshore sites”.

“No one is addressing the highly addictive nature of online slots,” she said, “and I’m not sure this was all contemplated by the government or [the Office of] Mental Health and Addictions.”

“He exists without us”

A Department of Finance spokesperson said the provincial gaming company expected the website to generate $10 million in its first year, but MacMaster said that was not the deciding factor in approval. of the platform.

“What really motivated him was the fact that he was there,” he said. “It exists without us and if we’re there, well, at least maybe we can protect people and recoup some of the money that’s leaving our province.”

Nova Scotia is the second Atlantic province to launch an online casino. New Brunswick took the leap in 2020. It grossed $7.3 million in the first operating fiscal year. Atlantic Lotto has been pushing for years for the four provinces it covers to be integrated into online casinos, and renewed that push in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government of Prince Edward Island has given approval for an online casino in this province in 2021, but it has not yet launched.

The government will monitor the site

The former Liberal government laid the groundwork for a launch in Nova Scotia last year when it passed an order in council authorizing an online casino in the province.

MacMaster said it would be up to the government, in consultation with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, to monitor the website and its operation.

“We’re just getting started, so we’ll definitely be open to what we see and make changes accordingly.”