Is Quebec Looking to Ban Internet Gaming?

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According to press reports from North of the Border, the Canadian province of Quebec is looking at a bill that would, for the most part, eradicate any online gaming from the region, save for the state-sponsored sites that the government operates.

Several outlets, including Huffington Post Canada and its writer Giuseppe Valiante, have publicized a bill that is making its way through the National Assembly of Quebec, the legislative body for the province that is similar to a state government here in the United States (each of the 10 provinces in Canada have their own provincial governments). Under discussion in the National Assembly is Bill 74 which, to this point, has been very low key in its movements through the legislative body. It isn’t until people take a look at what is inside the bill’s pages that Quebecers might get angered.

In particular, this is what has gotten some people irritated about Bill 74, which is supposed to be a budgetary bill:

To monitor online gambling, the Consumer Protection Act is amended to require Internet service providers to block access to illegal gambling sites entered on a list drawn up by the Société des loteries du Québec, which must report to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux if service providers fail to comply with the Act. The Régie will be responsible for informing service providers of their non-compliance, and the president and chief executive officer of the Société or a person the latter designates is granted investigation powers to ensure compliance.

Basically, Bill 74 is putting into law the fact that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would have to block Quebecers’ access to online gaming and poker sites that “have not been approved by the government.” The provincial government has partnered with Loto-Quebec to provide an online gaming and poker outlet, Espacejeux, for players and, by denying access to outside sites through the blockage of ISPs, would basically force Quebecers to play the only game in town.

The Finance Minister for Quebec, Carlos Leitao, states that the new law would be put in place to protect “the health and safety” of the province’s citizens because the international sites “don’t apply the same responsible gaming rules as the sites run by the government” and, as such, run the risk of several predatory gaming practices (underage gaming, addictive gambling, etc.). The bill’s actual language states that “an Internet Service Provider may not give access to an online gambling site whose operation is not authorized under Quebec law.” But the provincial government’s own budgetary plans demonstrate that there may be other reasons for the actions.

In their 2015-16 budget documents, the Quebec government and Loto-Quebec discuss the shortfalls that the company has been having and lay the responsibility for those shortfalls at the doors of international gambling companies. “Illegal websites do not apply the same responsible gaming rules” as the government, the documents read. “Thus, they pose a risk to the population, especially the young people.” Valiante details that, by eliminating the foreign operators from the mix, Loto-Quebec would be able to “increase the dividend that Loto-Quebec pays to the government by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year thereafter.”

To this point, only those that have a bone to pick with internet censorship have raised their ire over the bill. Valiante points out that “critics say the Internet-censoring legislation – unprecedented in Canada – is a way for Quebec’s state-owned gambling authority to block competition.” Valiante also says that the new legislation could potentially block freedom of expression in other areas, pretty much violates every “net neutrality” law that exists in Canada at this time (“net neutrality” is a term for the unfettered and neutral carrying of content instead of favoring one site over another, blocking some sites in favor of others or “slowing down” access speeds of some sites versus others who pay for better access).

To top the subject off, Valiante quotes University of Ottawa online law expert Michael Geist, who stated, “I think the Quebec government doesn’t understand the Internet and frankly doesn’t understand the importance of an open and free Internet.” Another constitutional lawyer in Canada, Julius Grey, commented to Valiante, “I want this law to be challenged,” as he believes that citizens’ rights should be protected in this case to allow them the fundamental right to ALL access on the Internet.

It bears repeating that no online gaming sites – not Amaya Gaming, the Canadian-owned company that operates PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker site, nor bwin.Party, 888 Holdings, etc. – have made one statement regarding Bill 74 potentially becoming “law of the land” in Quebec.

While the United States might think it has the market cornered on the stupidity of trying to ban internet gaming, it is sad to see that there are other areas of the world where it might be happening. It also might start a wave across Canada, where online gaming and poker is technically illegal but the government doesn’t push the issue. With hope Bill 74 will end up on the rubbish heap rather than passed into law, blocking Quebecers from playing at sites such as PokerStars, 888 and many others.

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