Coalition Responds To Québec’s Condemnation Of Regulated Online Gambling

Written By Matthew Lomon on February 15, 2024
Photo of a businessman with their head in the sand. The businessman is wearing a Quebec flag. Nathalie Bergeron said Quebec's disinterest in an open online gambling market is

The Québec Online Gaming Coalition says the Québec government is misguided to completely dismiss an open online gambling industry.

The spokesperson for the group lobbying to legalize online gambling in the province told PlayCanada that the government’s arguments against regulation are out of touch with today’s reality.

“If you look at the statement, it’s so out of date,” said Nathalie Bergeron. “It’s completely disconnected from the current reality. When they’re talking about the increase in use of cell phones, well, cell phones exist in every regulated market and everybody else has caught on that this was a time to react.

“And, because everybody has a cell phone, it is even more of a reason to make sure that we are changing the system so it takes that into account, and that everybody who can play on their mobile has access to standardized measures to ensure they have a safe environment to play on.”

Earlier this week, the office of Québec finance minister Eric Girard didn’t pull any punches in a pointed statement to Sherbrooke-based news outlet laTribune.

A spokesperson for Girard doubled down on the province’s steadfast opposition to launching a regulated online gambling market. Simply put, the province says it has no interest in allowing third-party operators to compete with crown-run Loto-Québec.

“It’s obviously disappointing, particularly in light of the data we put forward in December that demonstrates how a proportion of Quebec players are using privately-operated platforms,” Bergeron said in reference to the coalition’s survey about the gambling habits of 1,010 Quebecers who wager online. “It reinforces our commitment to continue to make sure that we provide the government with proper data so that it can make evidence-based decisions.”

Nathalie Bergeron, spokesperson for Quebec Online Gaming Coalition
Nathalie Bergeron / courtesy QOGC

Québec government cites Ontario framework as argument against legalization

While many gambling jurisdictions around the world, including Finland, and most recently Alberta, have come out in favour of adopting a regulatory framework modelled after Ontario’s, Québec has done the exact opposite.

According to The Tribune piece, the François Legault administration sees several flaws in Ontario’s regulated system. Specifically, the volume of ads.

“What we observe in other jurisdictions is that the changes made have led to overexposure to online gambling advertisements and a trivialization of gambling,” Girard’s office said to laTribune. “This is not what we want in Quebec.

“Furthermore, several experts believe that with the massive arrival of cell phones, deregulation is not desirable. This has an effect on the rise in pathological gambling, particularly among young people.”

The cell phone portion of this statement is what Bergeron referred to earlier as “out of date.” That said, even the ad argument falls into the “out of date” category in February 2024.

Recent PlayCanada studies have shown the collective criticism of gambling ad volume is overblown. The latest samples from this past Super Bowl and Week 15 of the NFL season found gambling ads appear far less frequently than expected.

However, it’s clear the early days of gambling ads ad nauseam continues to influence the perception of new markets.

The Québec government is also concerned that no regulatory body other than Loto-Québec can provide safe online gambling options. This argument alluded to anti-money laundering and illegal operator concerns, which Ontario, like all markets, has dealt with since long before the market launch on Apr. 4, 2022.

Bergeron counters saying Ontario model is proof the regulated system works

For Bergeron, the Ontario model serves as living proof that a regulated online gambling industry can not only sustain itself but also evolve.

“What I find interesting about the Ontario market is that it demonstrates that such a system can continue to evolve. The government putting measures in place doesn’t mean that it’s a strict environment that cannot move and they’re stuck with it in the future. It means they’re putting measures in place that can continue to evolve as gamer’s habits and preferences also continue to evolve, and if there are concerns, we can go back and address them.

“That flexibility is something key and it shows that the model works.”

She went on to say that the government’s fear of an ad onslaught is one solved by, well, regulation.

“It’s even more of an argument to regulate because then the government would have the means to put measures in place to address its concerns,” she said. “The government has the tools available to them to address the concerns they’re raising, and instead, they’re closing their eyes, putting their head in the sand and not doing anything.”

What’s more, she says, the Québec government has the luxury of studying what other markets have already done. The advantage of hindsight without lived failure is a golden opportunity going to waste, according to Bergeron. Doing so would allow Québec lawmakers to observe different strengths and weaknesses, filling the gaps where they see fit.

Coalition: Government’s comments abandon science and reason

Part of what makes the government’s comments especially frustrating for the QOGC is that the answers are in plain sight. This is something Bergeron said the coalition struggles to comprehend, as all the science, reason, and data favours regulation.

“It would be interesting to see how the government is basing its decisions. Throughout the pandemic, the Québec government has advocated for listening to experts and scientists and to let science rule. Our very own scientists who were studying online gaming are advocating for the same thing we are. As a matter of fact, our two main asks come from the Nadeau Report which came out in 2014.

“We’re literally asking for what the experts are saying should be in place… We’re not asking for anything ground-breaking or divisive, the entire community is asking for it.”

The first recommendation from the Nadeau Report called for the implementation of a regulatory framework based on the licensing system. The second was to establish an independent regulatory body that would oversee the entire online gambling industry.

One of the experts in favour of a licensing system in Québec is Sylvia Kairouz, the research chair on gaming at Concordia University. Kairouz expressed her support for an Ontario-style model to laTribune:

“It is a promising model that Quebec should think seriously about, but we must not put the cart before the horse,” the professor said. “We must think as a priority not about the revenue generated, because it will come anyway, but about the conditions to protect the population. Giving licenses could provide a framework.”

To Kairouz’s point about the money following, QOGC forecasts a minimum of $230 million per year under the licensing system. Unlike Loto-Québec, not all revenues would return to Québec, but it’s potentially hundreds of millions left on the table.

Coalition message to the people of Québec

With so many talking points from dozens of industry stakeholders, it’s tough to know where to look for information. The unequivocal starting point for the coalition is with the opinions of experts and scientists.

“I would love for them to see the facts and the opinions of the scientists that are studying the field and looking at this issue with concern,” she said.

“I think considering the rise in popularity of online gaming and the rise in popularity for privately-operated platforms, people need to have the right information to make informed decisions about where they game, but also with the options that would be offered to them if the government was paying attention.”

Photo by PlayCanada
Matthew Lomon Avatar
Written by
Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

View all posts by Matthew Lomon
Privacy Policy