Ontario Stacks Up Fairly Well In Terms Of Responsible Gambling

Written By Matthew Lomon on February 2, 2023 - Last Updated on March 10, 2023
Ontario allocates more to responsible gambling initiatives than most jurisdictions, but given the proliferation of gaming, it could be more.

Though it may seem like new Ontario online casinos and sportsbooks are sprouting up daily in the province, becoming a recognized, regulated operator is a much more delicate process than it appears, and for very good reason. Responsible gambling is a key part of the equation. The good news is Ontario does fairly well on that score.

In Ontario, problem gamblers account for 2% of the population but contribute up to 24% of gambling revenue.

The Responsible Gambling Council defines problem gambling as:

“Gambling that is done excessively, negatively affecting other areas of a person’s life, like physical or mental health, school or work performance, finances, and/or interpersonal relationships.”

Operators must achieve and maintain responsible gambling (RG) accreditation through the RGC’s RG check program before gaining entry to Ontario’s gambling market. And accreditation must be renewed every three years.

The RG Check Program is just one approach the province has taken in favour of problem gambling prevention and resolution.

How Ontario stacks up to its US counterparts

In the United States, the National Council on Problem Gambling recommends 1% of revenue be devoted to problem gambling initiatives. According to PlayIllinois.com, these are the top five states in terms of total funding for problem gaming platforms in 2021:

Massachusetts — $10,200,000
California — $8,681,501
Oregon — $7,034,955
Illinois — $6,800,000
Pennsylvania — $6,369,000

However, just looking at Illinois, that $6.8 million is only 0.005% of the $1.358 billion in tax revenue the state took in from gambling in FY2021. That’s half of what NCPG recommends.

In Ontario, there is no concrete percentage of revenue recommended by iGaming Ontario or the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to go to RG.

Also, it would be helpful if the government just said what percentage of gaming revenue was going toward RG. So, about all we can do is give a best guess on the numbers after searching through multiple government budgets and annual reports.

In fiscal year 2021-22, the following funds were said to have been directed towards problem gambling initiatives:

  • Ontario Ministry of Health: $5 million
  • Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.: $10 million+

So, assuming those are separate numbers, Ontario spent over $15 million on RG programs.

The most recent revenue figures in Ontario are for fiscal year 2021-22, before online casinos and sportsbooks launched on April 4 2022.

The OLG was the province’s chief gaming operator through FY 2021-22. The OLG reported net profit to the province of $1.6 billion for that fiscal year.  That means Ontario spent a little more than 0.009% of its gambling profits on RG initiatives in 2021-22.

Though that’s better than most, it’s not quite at 1%.

OLG Responsible Gambling three-year plan, 2023-2025

Also, the OLG recently introduced its newest responsible gambling strategy. The plan reinforces a commitment to sustainable, safe practices. Two primary goals drive the initiative forward:

  1. Preventing harm by providing foundational player education and integrating RG programming, tools, and supports into the fabric of the playing experience.
  2. Mitigating potential harm and problem gambling through the process of identifying and reducing problem gambling risk. Also, supporting and referring players for help, professional services, and community-based treatment.

This latest mission works in tandem with the organization’s original RG program, PlaySmart, to deliver an evolutionary assistance program that works in conjunction with responsible gambling research, protection, and prevention.

OLG commits over $10 million annually to RG program delivery, marketing and education, compliance efforts, research, training, and the operations of PlaySmart Centres located in 29 casinos and 37 charitable gaming (cGaming) centres across the province.

iGaming Ontario is the gatekeeper between operators and players

iGaming Ontario centres its RG approach around operators, as a means to protect players. In this framework, the onus is on the operator to empower players to make informed choices about their gambling behaviours. According to the iGaming Ontario website, informed choice involves “using the knowledge, information, and tools you have to make safe and healthy decisions about gambling.”

Further, in the interest of protecting informed choice, there are four stipulations all operators must adhere to:

  1. Successfully achieve and maintain responsible gambling accreditation. This is done through the RGC’s RG Check program to ensure a high standard of responsible gambling programming.
  2. Run problem gambling prevention and responsible gambling campaigns. The goal is to achieve a balance between responsible gambling advertising and promotional marketing.
  3. Participate in a future coordinated and centralized self-exclusion program. This will allow players to take a break from all regulated Internet gaming websites in Ontario.
  4. Share annonymous player data for the purpose of advancing problem gambling and responsible gambling research.

Further, voluntary self-exclusion programs provide an interesting contrast to involuntary exclusion programs. The latter is a procedure that allows casinos to deny players access to their facilities based on previous instances of personal misconduct. Self-exclusion empowers self-aware problem gamblers to seek help on their own terms.

Granted, this is not always the case for problem gamblers. There are people struggling with gambling addiction that need support from external sources. Yet, voluntary exclusion is, at the very least, a positive step towards protecting informed choice. And it inspires autonomy among problem gamblers.

The Responsible Gambling Council holds those in power accountable

Backed by the belief that gambling should never come at a human cost, the Responsible Gambling Council is a non-profit organization that has dedicated more than 35 years to the prevention of problem gambling in Canada and around globe. The RGC holds operators accountable. Further, it also works to instil gambling behaviours that are mutually beneficial to both players and the industry.

Access to support is another key point of emphasis for the RGC. Notably, it believes that people have a right to feel safe, live happily, and find support whenever they need it, without barriers. Gambling leaders must establish open lines of communication to implement effective RG strategies.

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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.

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