BUSINESS

Canada breaks the governmental online gambling seal

TAGs: BCLC, British Columbia, playnow.com

Well, we knew it would come eventually and it’s hugely satisfying for me that it is the Canadian province of British Columbia that is first out the gate to compete in the lucrative online gaming industry. This is especially satisfying after having to read a certain windbag’s vitriolic anti-online gaming rants in the Vancouver Sun the last few years. This ranter is notably conspicuous by his silence now, though. His employer has it on page one of today’s Vancouver Sun that B.C. is the first government in North America to have a full channel (minus poker for now) online gaming web site up. For you Americans reading this, yes, there is sports betting, too… Why would there not be? This is both good and bad news.

As I write this article, I am sitting here in my Vancouver hotel room, on a holiday to visit family. Though most of my business is in Europe and Asia these days, I like to come back to Canada once or twice a year for a holiday. I am waiting to do some national Canadian press to comment on B.C. getting into the game. Though the Bodog Group has no presence here now, this was the city in which I originally started the Bodog Group, so it’s kind of ironic the way this is unfolding. I sold that company and now own a brand licensing company called BodogBrand.com that licenses technology and brands to groups globally including Bodog.ca.

I expect that in this interview I will be asked what I make of B.C.’s move. Here is my position. I love that this move validates what I have been saying all along — online gaming is a legitimate part of the global entertainment industry. I think whoever made this decision in the B.C. government got it right. However, I always hate to read the crap that is used to justify government decisions. Honestly, it’s like they think we are all brain dead. B.C. is in this game for the MONEY. And it’s money they sorely need, so I applaud this move wholeheartedly. This is the good news. However, despite their claims, they are not in it to help B.C. residents with gambling addiction.

Why? Because the regulated private companies, like Bodog.ca and others managed from London that also offer services to B.C. residents, are just as good at implementing responsible gambling policies as any unregulated government-owned enterprise ever will be. That’s right, you heard me. Bodog.ca is regulated by an independent regulatory body that is deemed acceptable to the government of the UK. Playnow.com is run by a Corporation wholly owned by the B.C. government. As such, they have decided they do not need any oversight. And after all, what government-owned gambling business would ever be involved in a scandal, or two?

Now comes the bad news of this move. In a rather harsh irony, B.C.’s government has enlisted OpenBet (formerly Orbis Technology Ltd.) to power its online offering. OpenBet is a European-based technology company that works with many online gaming companies, including Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair, Paddy Power and Bodog Europe (which operates bodog.ca). Bodog Europe also uses Bodogbrand.com technology, now developed in Europe but primarily built in Vancouver prior to moving.

It’s odd to see the provincial government embracing a foreign online gaming technology firm in this fashion, especially considering it showed little such affection for Bodog’s affiliated technology companies when they were based out of Vancouver. In fact, one could argue that the authorities actively sought to discourage Bodog’s technology companies from thriving, or even existing, within B.C’s borders. In hindsight, they could have easily had a Canadian-designed/built/operated solution to their gaming technology needs, which would have kept citizens’ tax dollars at home, recirculating through the province, but instead the government is sending these tax dollars across the pond to benefit another nation’s citizens, and the development that used to be here has also significantly moved to Europe and Asia.

Also, since the B.C. government has decided to go the unregulated route, there will be lots of temptation to gouge the players, not to mention using their power to push out competition in advertising, eCom and other areas so that their players never find out that they are being gouged. However, the good news is that market forces will ultimately prevail and — as I have stated many times in articles and interviews over the years — the speed of movement of information on the internet will, in fact, form a type of self-regulation that should help to keep the B.C. government in check and force them to offer a fair and competitive product to the players of British Columbia. B.C. residents deserve to have the benefits of the free market in online gambling, just as they do when they buy a car or a bar of soap. So when the Canadian media switch their microphones on, I will make this case for the residents of B.C.

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