Québec Budget Bill Passes, Gambling Site Blacklist May Follow

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The Canadian province of Québec passed its budget bill, Bill 74, two weeks ago, an occurrence that would not normally be of much interest to us to anyone outside of Québec. This time, though, things are a bit different, as included in said budget was an authorization for the province to require internet service providers (ISP’s) to block all online gambling sites that are not expressly licensed by the government. This isn’t simply a situation in which unlicensed sites are considered illegal; this is the provincial government mandating internet censorship and deputizing the ISP’s as involuntary cops.

The language in the budget bill that puts the ban into place reads as follows:

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.

We here in the States have complained about legislators inserting anti-gambling language into unrelated bills such as when the UIGEA was added to the SAFE Port Act or the recent attempts to tack pro-RAWA language onto appropriations bills, and it looks like the same thing has happened in Québec.

Carlos Leitao, Québec’s Finance Minister, claims this is a consumer protection issue, saying it is for the “the health and safety” of Québec residents because unlicensed sites “don’t apply the same responsible gaming rules as the sites run by the government,” but the measure is really all about limiting competition.

Loto-Québec is the government-run lottery commission, which also operates the lone licensed online gambling site in the province, Espacejeux. It was Loto-Québec that got the gaming site ban put into the bill so that those in Québec would be forced to go to Espacejeux for their gaming, as all other sites would supposedly be blocked by ISP’s. And despite the concerns offered by Leitao, the budget documentation even admitted this is basically a revenue-growing measure, as it stated that the website ban would increase gaming revenue to the government by $13.5 million in 2016-2017 and $27 million per year after that.

The next step is for a “blacklist” of sites to be banned to be sent to ISP’s. Of course, it is Loto-Québec that is in charge of putting together this list. Loto-Québec has 30 days from when the bill was passed to create this list.

Loto-Québec had previously said that it would license three online gambling sites to provide gaming products for Espacejeux. One of those is expected to by Amaya Gaming, parent of PokerStars. In March 2015, when word of the ISP ban mandate spread, Amaya’s Head of Corporate Communications, Eric Hollreiser, expressed his and the company’s pleasure with the budget bill:

We read the budget address with great interest and are happy to see the government seeking ways to work with the private sector to contribute to Loto-Quebec’s growth in online gaming, for the benefit of taxpayers and the protection of consumers. Amaya has been a long time licensed partner of Loto-Quebec, providing it with both online and land-based games and support services. As the global leader in online gaming, Amaya would happily expand its existing partnership with Loto-Quebec to go through the necessary process to become an online solutions supplier accredited by Loto-Quebec and to help define the future online gaming guidelines.

Yes, the government is “work[ing] with the private sector.” Yes, that’s it.

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