A spokesperson for a coalition lobbying to legalize online gambling in Quebec told PlayCanada the effort is gaining momentum.
Nathalie Bergeron is the spokesperson for the Québec Online Gaming Coalition. She said the possibility of a second regulated Canadian online gambling market is beginning to pick up steam after a major announcement in the province last week.
On Sept. 15, three professional sports leagues vowed their support in favour of a bid to legalize private-sector online gambling in Québec. The National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, and Canadian Football League are looking to pioneer an Ontario-like shift to Quebec’s online casino and sports betting system.
The QOGC was formed in May of this year. The group of betting operators is working with the Québec government and industry stakeholders to develop a new regulatory framework that best serves the province and its people.
Progress to legalize Quebec online casinos
Since its inauguration four months ago, Bergeron told PlayCanada the QOGC has worked diligently to keep the dialogue moving.
“We’ve been quite busy since the launch of the coalition in May,” Bergeron said. “We have had meetings with different stakeholders from Parliament and industry experts, and those conversations are ongoing.
“I think the volume of coverage that we have generated since the beginning of our efforts also shows that we forced a conversation to take place that was not taking place before, and for us, that’s huge progress.”
A significant part of that progress came from the overwhelming support of the NBA, MLS, and CFL. For the QOGC, having the approval of major industry players offers both credence and credibility to their cause.
“I think the leagues are showing how important it is to them to offer a complete experience to their fans, and the gaming activities are seen as being an integral part of that experience,” she said. “It’s very encouraging for us to see that they are supporting us and we’re hoping to see more leagues join their movement.”
The CFL has been a proud proponent of single-game sports betting in Canada dating back to its legalization in 2021. In particular, the league’s commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, has been an outspoken advocate for installing a regulated playing environment in Québec.
Bergeron: Québec’s current system is outdated
Similar to the system Ontario operated under prior to the proclamation of Bill C-218, Bergeron (above) said Québec’s online gambling sector is in desperate of a software update.
“We need to continue to raise awareness that the current system in Québec is outdated,” she said. “It dates back to well before the internet era, so it is time the government takes action and modernizes it to reflect the new reality.”
One of the key arguments for the coalition, and supporters of gambling safety, is that residents are currently wagering in unregulated online environments. While the province does have a legal provider of online gambling through Loto-Québec, gamblers still have access to illegal sites.
“It is estimated that 20% of Québecois are now partaking in online gaming activities,” Bergeron said. “It’s high time that they can do so in a safe environment.”
Coalition points back to Ontario as proof system works
In its first year of operation, Ontario’s open market yielded a total handle of “about $35.6 billion” and some $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue. These figures from iGaming Ontario combine the Ontario online casino, Ontario poker, and Ontario sports betting sectors.
Of course, Ontario’s population is nearly double that of Québec’s and big money numbers aren’t exactly everything. But, what this does say is that the formula is working, and other jurisdictions are intrigued.
When asked how Ontario’s iGaming sector may impact Quebec’s online gambling scene, Bergeron said:
“I think in the long run it will be because [Ontario] shows tangible, concrete proof that the system works. We have a Québec government that has had a tendency to compare itself to Ontario quite a lot over the past few years. I think this is one area where we would all benefit if they did.”
Québec should adopt recommendations from 2014 Nadeau report
Keeping with the Ontario theme, Bergeron harkened back to the 2014 Nadeau report.
“What’s very interesting to me about what Ontario’s put in place, is that it followed the same recommendations that were in the Nadeau report released in 2014, which was sadly shelved at the time,” she said.
“The two recommendations from the report were the two things we are asking the government: implementation of the regulatory framework based on the licensing system, as well as the creation of an independent regulatory body that would supervise the whole of the online gaming industry.”
Bergeron also referenced Montréal Public Health’s recent 42-page report deciding against a mini-casino near the Bell Centre. Here, experts recommended the establishment of an independent body to supervise Québec’s online gaming industry.
“Nearly 10 years later, experts are still saying that such a regulatory body is necessary,” Bergeron said. “But now, they’re going further, asking for a body that would regulate the entire industry, not just online.”
QOGC in it for the long haul
Moving any kind of legislation in a new direction, obviously, takes both time and patience. Bergeron reiterated the QOGC’s willingness to continue moving forward to legalize online casinos. It’s a goal she says Québec residents are ready for.
“I think Québec residents are ready for a system like the one in Ontario,” she said. “We released a survey in May that shows that 66% of Quebecois would be in favour of the implementation of a licensing system for private operators. We’re already seeing that support.”
When will that time be? Nobody can say for sure, not even Bergeron, who jokingly wished about having a crystal ball at her disposal. What is for certain is the QOGC’s commitment to remain on course while laying the groundwork for impending change.
“We’re in this for the long run and we’re going to be working with different stakeholders,” Bergeron said. “Our objective is to convince the government that such a framework is beneficial for everyone, and to make sure that we’re doing all the work necessary to ensure all the stakeholders are consulted and can provide their input.”