‘It’s very destructive’: Gambling addict, professionals react to Alberta’s new online casino

On Thursday, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) officially launched PlayAlberta.ca, the province’s only regulated online gambling site.

AGLC anticipates PlayAlberta will generate $3.71 million in revenue annually. That money is directed into Alberta’s general revenue fund.

Bonnie Lee, an associate professor in Addictions Counselling at the University of Lethbridge, says the timing of this launch — during the COVID-19 pandemic — could have negative impacts.

“The government gambling website is launched at a very opportune moment, with thousands of Albertans stranded at home,” she said.

Read more: PlayAlberta, regulated online gambling website, launched Thursday

Lee adds that addictions rarely exist alone, and those with a tendency towards excess in one area are at a higher risk for developing a gambling addiction.

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“One has to know the risks and how to protect themselves,” she said. “[Gambling] does have alluring qualities that people have to be aware of.”

One recovering gambling addict, who wished to remain anonymous, tells Global News he is worried about the impact of the site, as online gambling is a very quick way to lose money.  He says he began gambling with cards and marbles as a child, with his addiction coming to a head once he turned 18.

He agrees with Lee that pandemic isolation could worsen the risk of gambling at home.

“You know how fast people can lose money on their credit cards?” he asked. “I know friends who lose $5,000 to $10,000 on their credit cards in a day.”

“It’s very destructive. Now it’s going to be 24-hour accessibility on the phone or on the computer for people to gamble, and that’s not a good thing to hear.”

While addiction manifests in many forms, he says the awareness around gambling addiction isn’t as prevalent as some others.

“You can tell if someone is drunk, you can tell if someone is high,” he added. “But you can’t tell if someone is a compulsive gambler.”

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In response to these worries, ALGC told Global News it has a variety of resources on the site, and they aim to mirror the same “social responsibility presence” found in land-based casinos and racing entertainment centres in the province.

“Players can access a suite of responsible gambling features and can set daily, weekly and monthly deposit limits to control how much they are spending,” the statement reads.

“They can set custom time limits on their play and receive notifications for how long they’ve been playing.”

AGLC adds gambling tools such as gamesenseab.ca and the Self-Exclusion Program are also available, something other sites may not have.

“Unregulated online gambling sites implement little to no responsible gambling features, leaving the player with limited protections or means of responsible play, education or access to other responsible gambling tools.”

Click to play video 'Provincial online gambling website ‘PlayAlberta’ now live' Provincial online gambling website ‘PlayAlberta’ now live

Provincial online gambling website ‘PlayAlberta’ now live

Darren Christensen, a senior research fellow with the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, says he somewhat disagrees. He says the site could have done a better job of making those resources apparent.

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“Compared to other jurisdictions around the world, I would consider their responsible gambling measures to be minimal to modest.”

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Christensen acknowledges that the links are helpful, but going beyond the education aspect through limit setting is the most effective preventative measure.

“Limit setting is perhaps the best measure for stopping gambling from becoming a problem.”

The Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Jason Luan says the province has a variety of supports and encourages Albertans to take the steps toward recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that manifests itself in different ways for different people.

“If you find that your relationship with gambling is unhealthy, know that there are supports available,” Luan’s statement reads.

“Alberta’s government has rapidly increased the number of addiction treatment spaces at facilities across the province, which are available to people struggling with gambling addiction.

“There are also phone and online supports operating 24/7, including the Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322, which includes support for gambling addiction, and the Crisis Text Line, which is available by texting CONNECT to 741741.”

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