The P.E.I. government says it ordered Atlantic Lotto to stop a series of online and Television advertisements offering $20 for Islanders to gamble on its website, as opposition M.L.A.s pressed the finance minister of the province on Wednesday over plans to open an online casino.
Green and Liberal M.L.A.s have already voiced concerns about the cabinet-approved plan in December for P.E.I. to follow the lead of New Brunswick and allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation on behalf of the province to operate an online casino for Island residents.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Darlene Compton was invited to appear before the province’s standing health and social development committee, giving M.L.A.s their first opportunity to question the province’s minister responsible for lottery revenue, which lasted almost two hours.
Compton told the P.E.I. committee that the increasing number of provinces in the country that offer online casinos should join the P.E.I. committee as a measure to draw Islanders from gambling on illegal offshore websites.
“The public are doing this, and I think it’s really important that we as a province take the responsibility, as we did with liquor and cannabis, to provide regulated, safe consumption.”
But, echoing what an expert on gambling addiction told the committee last week, Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker suggested that P.E.I.’s financial gains will come at the expense of problem gamblers who are low-income Islanders.
He said that “Somebody has to lose in order for P.E.I. to make money, and all of the studies show that that person is more likely to be a low-income Islander, that that person … is more likely to be a problem gambler.”
Among the questions and concerns raised at the committee meeting by M.L.A.s were repeated questions about how the province would control its online casino advertising.
That’s when Michele Beaton, M.L.A. of Stratford-Mermaid, brought up a new television and online ad campaign where Atlantic Lotto offered $20 in credits to Island residents to gamble on its current website.
Beaton said that “We have no idea how many of those people [who received the ad] were recovering addicts. I don’t see us ever offering a $20 credit to the liquor store.”
Jennifer MacDonald-Donovan, manager of policy, planning, and regulatory affairs with the Department of Finance responded that “We saw that ad and the minister sent a notice to Atlantic Lottery that that’s not to happen again. They’re not to try to incentivize with a cash bonus or credits.”
The promotion is being pulled on Prince Edward Island, MacDonald-Donovan said, and the television advertisements were to be off the air as soon as Thursday.
M.L.A.s also questioned the responsible gaming strategy of the province, unveiled under Robert Ghiz’s administration in 2008 and, according to the current government, unchanged since then.
The method included a commitment to devote 1.5 percent of the gaming revenues of the province to responsible gaming measures. Records show the province committed $200,533 to the strategy in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
MacDonald-Donovan told the committee that the province has increased the commitment to $300,000 annually, a figure that will also increase with the inflation rate. The opposition has said that funding falls far short of what the province should be committing to minimize gambling problems.
MacDonald-Donovan said that one commitment in the strategy to create an advisory council on responsible gaming to oversee efforts to reduce problem gambling. Compton said that “It definitely is a priority to look at the strategy and how we move forward,” adding the government would consider finally creating the advisory council.