While many residents of the United States are rejoicing at the decision of the courts to increase options for online gambling it seems that the opposite path may be taken in Canada.
The market for gambling in Canada is one that is growing and had a value of more than 17 billion dollars in 2017. Until now it was legal for residents of Canada to play games of chance online as long as the casino did not maintain a physical location within the country.
The problem began when companies like Espacejeux, PlayOLG, and PlayNow.com, who are the only casinos licensed to operate in their own jurisdictions, began to complain. Legislators have also expressed concern saying that feel that foreign websites are cutting into revenue because the Canadian government is not provided with taxes from these companies. The legislature in Quebec addressed this issue in 2016 by passing measures that included a provision requiring Internet Service Providers to block access to online casinos that originate from sources outside of Canada.
Loto-Quebec, the chief gambling body in Quebec province, operates Espacejeux.com which makes the requirement that players be residents of Quebec to patronize its online casino offerings. The profits realized by EspaceJeux.com are transferred to the government in a way similar to lotteries and land-based casinos. Industry expert Simon Stern explains that the 2016 establishment of Bill 74 is simply a provision to eliminate competition from foreign casinos.
The way Bill 74 will work is that Loto-Quebeck will provide ISPs with a list of approximately 2000 IP addresses to prevent Canadian residents from accessing. Loto-Quebec will also offer these international casinos the opportunity to partner with Espacejeux.com if they are willing to redirect online casino players to them but Loto-Quebec is also asking for the right to maintain all customer information and will receive a percentage of the revenue.
The Internet Service Providers tasked with facilitating the process of blocking the IP addresses of foreign casinos are not happy with the added responsibility and activists for civil rights issues feels this legislature could point the country down a road that could lead to free speech restrictions losing internet freedom.
The Consortium of Wireless Telecommunications Association, which is an organization comprised of Canadian ISPs, has filed a complaint with the CRTC, which has advised that the law is unconstitutional. The CWTA has filed a lawsuit with the provincial Government of Quebec, and many legal scholars believe that the matter will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.
If Bill 74 stands it will be the first law in the country that allows for a provincial government in Canada to place a restriction on what a citizen can view on the internet. Many opposed to this bill feel that much more than the right to play casino games offered by foreign entities are at stake. These opposers feel that Bill 74 if allowed to, will serve to open the door for other provinces to take similar action on this issue, as well as other facets of the free internet.