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Alberta Online Casinos

Alberta Online CasinosThe westernmost and most populated of Canada’s three prairie provinces, Alberta is home to more than 4 million residents and two major cities, in Edmonton and Calgary. Home to some of Canada’s largest oil fields, the province is known for being a hub for the Canadian energy industry, with many important industries from the northern reaches of the country making their way through Alberta before making their way out to the rest of the country or the world at large.

Alberta is also home to a mature gaming industry, one that offers up plenty of options for players looking to place a bet. Along with the expected lotteries, the province hosts thousands of video lottery terminals (VLTs), horse racing, and numerous casinos and bingo halls. Thus far, the provincial government has resisted the growing allure of online gambling regulation that has been embraced by many of their neighbors, though many offshore sites are still available to anyone who wants to place a bet over the Internet.

Gambling Expansion Provides Revenue Influx

Gambling was largely illegal in Canada until the early parts of the 20th century. Parimutuel wagering on horse racing was legalized in 1910, and quickly became popular throughout much of the country, including in Alberta. Today, three are three horse racing tracks of note in the province, including Northlands Park, which has been open since 1900 and now hosts a variety of racing seasons in different parts of the year. However, the long history of racing at Northlands is expected to end after 2016, potentially leaving the province without a top-level track.

The first big expansion of the provincial gaming industry began in the 1970s. The first charity casinos began to appear, limited in the fact that they were non-profit institutions. By 1980, the first permanent private charitable casino, Cash Casino, had opened in Calgary, and it was soon followed by a similar venue in Edmonton.

Around the same time, the use of lotteries to raise revenue also began to take hold. In 1979, the provincial authority over lotteries was established, and by 1982, the Lotto 6/49 game had launched, making it possible for Albertans to win large jackpots if they held a lucky ticket. Lotto 6/49, Lotto Max, and other games are still being held to this day under the purview of the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, which also operates the lotteries for Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Canada’s territories (Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories).

One of the biggest changes to the province’s gaming industry came in 1992, when the VLT program was introduced. After a brief test of the machines was held at summer fairs in Edmonton and Calgary during 1991, widespread distribution of the games was allowed the next year. Today, there are 6,000 terminals in locations throughout the province, mainly in bars, restaurants, and racetracks. This number is capped by law, though the machines have been upgraded on multiple occasions to improve the selection available for players.

Over the years, the selection of charitable casinos in Alberta has also improved. While none of these venues are huge – it would be hard to classify them as Las Vegas-style resorts – there are about two dozen throughout the province, including several each in Calgary and Edmonton. In addition, you can find a number of similar casinos operated by First Nations tribal groups. Under Albertan law, these casinos must be opened on reserves, and operate under the same conditions as other charitable venues in the province, though with more flexibility in what their revenues may support. Examples of operations opened by First Nations charities include the River Cree Resort and Casino and the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino.

Today, gambling is a major part of Alberta’s economy, and contributes heavily to the governmental budget there. In recent years, the province has added more than $1.2 billion annually to its coffers from VLTs, even after accounting for all expenses (including programs meant to help those with addictions).

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Online Regulation Resisted

While many provinces have begun to offer regulated online gambling in an effort to bring in new revenues, Alberta has not been one of them. The issue has certainly been raised, especially in the wake of falling oil prices (which are critically important to the region given the massive presence of the oil industry), but so far there has been no serious effort to push forward with legislation that would regulate virtual casino games.

That said, it is still rather simple for Albertans to enjoy Internet gambling if they would like to. A large number of overseas firms host casinos, poker rooms, and other gaming sites that are welcoming to Canadian players. Occasionally, you’ll find rooms that avoid the Canadian market, though this is not nearly as common as it is in the USA, giving Canadians a real leg up when it comes to playing at high quality, trusted sites.

What accounts for this difference? Both law and attitude play roles in this. First, much like in much of the United States, there are no laws in Canada making it illegal for individuals to place bets on such sites, meaning there is no threat of prosecution of legal action if you choose to play. At the same time – again, as in America – it may not be legal for the sites themselves to accept Canadian players without any sort of a license. But unlike in the US, where laws like the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act have made processing payments to and from these sites illegal for financial institutions, no such steps have been taken to stop the flow of money for Canadians.

Also, the Canadian government has not shown any interest in pursuing legal action against such operators – quite a different tact than their neighbors to the south. That threat of legal action is what scared many grey market operators from offering games in the United States, and while some companies have decided to leave Canada for various reasons (including wanting access to regulated markets in many provinces), we haven’t seen the same sort of mass exodus there.

More Gambling, Or Less? The Debate Continues

With the success of the Albertan gaming industry firmly established, it’s not surprising that some in government have been pushing for more of a good thing. Calls for expansion of the gambling sector have only become louder recently, as falling oil prices have put a dent in another key element of the provincial economy.

In particular, it has been suggested that the regulation of online gambling could be a lucrative proposition. Even during an economic downturn in the region, gamblers are spending more than ever, and some officials have suggested that Alberta could raise as much as $100 million a year through the regulation of Internet betting.

It’s a move we’ve seen progress on in virtually every part of Canada over the past few years, but not everyone in Alberta is on board with the idea. The plan has already been rejected formally once in the past, and there is no sign that the government is going to take up the issue in force any time soon. While there was talk of movement towards regulation in 2015, officials such as Finance Minister Joe Ceci have said that it isn’t something that is gathering serious consideration quite yet – though he did say he would be interested in learning more about the issue before making a firm yes or no commitment on whether he’d push for online casinos in the future.

The argument for regulation posits that since many people are already playing these games, the government might as well keep the revenue within the province rather than having profits leave the country entirely. However, not everyone is convinced that these benefits outweigh the social and public risks of bringing legalized betting to computers, smartphones, and tablets. This argument is just as simple: more access means more problem gamblers, which outweighs any gains in revenue that might be realized. Some even argue that the number of VLTs or casinos should be reduced.

However, with the low price of oil on the global market, Alberta is more reliant on gambling revenues than ever to fund government programs. That means that it would be very difficult to turn back now, and more expansion may be coming sooner or later. With eight provinces already having regulated online gambling available, it might only be a matter of time before Alberta embraces the Internet as just the latest frontier in a long history of gaming industry expansion.

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