Interview: Efforts To Legalize Online Gambling In Québec Growing

Written By Matthew Lomon on December 1, 2023 - Last Updated on December 7, 2023
Efforts To Legalize Online Gambling In Québec Growing

Earlier this fall, Nathalie Bergeron of the Québec Online Gaming Coalition told PlayCanada that the push to legalize online gambling in Québec is gaining momentum. She reiterated that Friday in a second interview.

The initial conversation was back on Sept. 22 after three professional sports leagues vowed their support in favour of a bid to legalize private-sector online gambling in Québec.

In the two-plus months that have passed, the movement has yet to slow down. In fact, it’s continuing to show signs of growth according to Bergeron, the coalition’s spokesperson. One of those key indicators of success is a Mainstree Research survey gathering the gaming habits of 1010 Quebecers who wager online.

Released on Dec. 1, the QOGC-commissioned survey found:

  • 72% of Québec players who use Loto-Québec’s Espace Jeux, do so exclusively to purchase lottery tickets
  • 26.6% of players visit Espace Jeux to play online casino games or bet on sports (excludes lottery players)
  • 73% of Québec players choose privately-operated sites for online casino and sports betting activities
  • 67% of Québec players are in favour of regulating private online operators through a licensing and tax system
  • 56% of Québec bettors agree that an independent body should oversee the province’s gaming offering, including Loto-Québec.

Update: GeoComply partners with Québec coalition

On Wednesday, the coalition announced it has partnered with GeoComply Solutions, a leading provider of anti-fraud and geolocation services.

GeoComply already is a partner with several Ontario online gambling operators. In a press release, Bergeron said, “GeoComply’s data will help paint a clear picture of Quebecers’ playing habits and provide additional guidance to our mission. Their cutting-edge technology can help ensure safer online interactions for operators and users at all stages of the player journey, while achieving the highest standards in compliance. We look forward to work with them as the Coalition continues its engagement in Québec.”

Lindsay Slader, the Senior Vice President of Compliance for GeoComply added, “GeoComply proudly joins the efforts of the coalition to advocate for a modernized online gaming market that maximizes consumer protection, strengthens integrity and delivers meaningful revenues to Quebec. Ontario’s success has proven that in an open yet regulated market, everyone wins.”

A PlayCanada analysis from two weeks prior proved the rest of Canada is missing out on massive revenue by not following Ontario’s open online gambling model.

We caught up with Bergeron to discuss what both sets of findings mean for the future of online gambling in La Belle Province.

Bergeron: survey provides clearer picture of situation in Québec

The Mainstree survey has been atop the coalition’s focus for quite some time. In a wide-ranging interview with PlayCanada, Bergeron said the data it presents raises questions about the data coming out of Loto-Québec’s camp.

“If you look at the survey results, 56% of players are agreeing that the government should regulate the market,” she said. “That’s interesting because, in a previous survey from earlier this year, we had surveyed the general population, which at 66% said they were also in agreement.”

This time around, the coalition felt it was imperative to collect insights from those involved in online gambling, albeit illegally.

“We reached just over 1,000 respondents,” said Bergeron. “To do so, we had to reach people who were admitting to playing online. We made rigorous efforts to ensure we were reaching people who actually play online, so when they’re saying, ‘Yes, I want my government to regulate the market,’ I think it speaks loudly to everyone seeing the benefits of it.”

How rigorous were the coalition’s efforts? The survey yielded 800,000 tentatives on top of the 1,010 respondents. Now, equipped with data from both the general public and online players, Bergeron says Quebec’s situation is becoming clearer.

“It gives us a better picture of what the reality in the field is, and that it’s very different from what Loto-Québec is portraying. That said, the government is making its decisions based on what Loto-Québec is giving them.

“You can see how that’s problematic because it’s not reflecting what’s happening out there.”

Québec losing out on at least $230 million annually

Nathalie Bergeron, spokesperson for Quebec Online Gaming Coalition
(Nathalie Bergeron / Courtesy QOGC)

Our Nov. 14 analysis emphasized that governments are leaving millions of dollars on the table by not regulating an activity that is already happening.

The coalition, which is well aware, used Ontario’s regulatory model to formulate an estimate of just how much that is. It found that Québec could earn a minimum of $230 million annually by licensing private operators. What’s more, this figure doesn’t include gaming revenue, it’s purely a product of tax and licensing fees.

Bergeron also mentioned that online gambling in Québec has seen tremendous growth in recent years. And, player preferences seem to be changing too.

“Online gaming has grown exponentially in Québec over the last few years, but it also looks like gamers are playing everywhere except Espace Jeux,” Bergeron said. “So, we can continue to put our head in the sand, live with Care Bears, and say there’s a monopoly. But, the fact is the monopoly’s not working anymore.

“During that time players are left without the right protections and the government is leaving money, that if you look at the news in Québec over the last few months, they say they are missing critically.”

Squandered funds aside, Bergeron says the leading motivator for government regulation is unequivocally, player protection.

“Our main concern should be making sure there is a standardized set of measures put in place. This would ensure gamers who choose to play on a private platform have access to the highest standards of protection, especially in terms of responsible gaming, data protection, and security.”

Same goal, different team?

While it appears the coalition and Loto-Québec share diametrically opposing opinions, Bergeron doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s ironic because I think our objective is the same,” she said. “It’s to make sure that gamers have the best games and the best overall environment.”

However, like most competing sides, there’s a disconnect in method, strategy, and structure.

“Historically, I think the monopoly was put in place to protect gamers and bring the highest standards, as well as collect money. But, it looks like it’s not working anymore. It’s very tough to think we can stay with the current system when Québecers have already decided it doesn’t work for them.

“What I see is a monopoly that is trying to protect itself.”

Key to determining proper system lies within Québec

Given Ontario’s position as the only open Canadian online gambling market, it’s easy to say Québec should copy that structure and paste it into its legislation. But, that would be short-sighted and irresponsible.

That’s not an indictment of the Ontario online casino and sports betting market. It is performing admirably. And, so is its government-run site run by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. It’s more so a comment on the advantage other provinces have by being able to study from the outside.

For the QOGC, this position is integral to determining how to best support a system that works for Quebec.

“I think it’s a question of what works for us,” said Bergeron. “We’re not asking the government to take the Ontario model word-for-word and apply it here. We’re asking them to inspire themselves and adapt it to the reality of Québec, and also to what’s acceptable in our society, both in terms of responsible gaming and advertising, etc.

“It’s about looking at what’s done and then working with the stakeholders and experts. That’s something we must take into consideration. Let’s look at the experts and ask them what they’re seeing in the field or in their research and ask them what their recommendations are, instead of unilaterally making decisions without having their opinion.”

Coexistence is possible in Québec

Since Ontario launched an open gambling market, OLG’s digital gambling operations sector experienced marked growth, rising to $561 million from $427 million in 2021-22. Overall, that’s a 31% increase year-over-year.

In that same timeframe, iGaming Ontario reported $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue.

Bergeron pointed to these numbers as proof that a harmonized, regulated system works well. This is exactly the kind of future the QOGC, with the help of the government, envisions for Québec.

“We’re hoping to work with them to implement a system that works for all players.”

That’s something, right now, she says is sorely lacking.

“If I’m looking at the Québec market, instead of trying to block players from going elsewhere, I would try to figure out what would appeal to them.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the consumer.

“Competition always leads to innovation and the consumer is always the winner.”

Photo by PlayCanada
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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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