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New Internet betting attraction worries addiction experts, who say it could create ‘invisible’ problem gamblers

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

(FOTOLIA)

(FOTOLIA)

Ontario is trying to reduce its red ink with a new Internet gambling site that could increase addiction, the region’s main anti-addiction agency fears.

The same problem-gamblers who spend most of the money in casinos and on lottery tickets will likely be the major source of money on the site launched Thursday, said Linda Sibley, executive-director of Addiction Services of Thames Valley.

“There are ethics about how we get money out of the people of Ontario,” Sibley said.

With its lure of easy access, the site PlayOLG.ca could also draw in a new market of gamblers, added Lori Griffith, program co-ordinator for the anti-addiction agency.

“They are trying to get a new market who maybe didn’t have access to gambling before. The money is not going to feel real in the privacy of your own home,” she said. “In the privacy of their own home, people lose track of the time online.”

Adding to the concerns: The addictive nature of the Internet.

“This is frightening for us. We are concerned,” Sibley said. “I understand the pressure to pay off the debt. I am just concerned about the method.”

The province launched the new site at 5 a.m. Thursday, with online games ranging from Blackjack to single-person poker to “Kitty Glitter.” Gamblers can “play for free” or “play for real.”

OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said an invitation-only preview proved successful, so the decision was made to go ahead with a full province-wide launch.

“We did some fine-tuning on some of the registration, some of the verification, nothing major,” he said. “We got some good feedback from our customers.”

Gamblers must register and set a weekly deposit limit up to $9,999. Password protection and identity verification is in place in large part to prevent under-age gaming.

About 3.4% of Ontarians have severe to moderate gambling problems, but that percentage represents those who recognize they have a problem or present for treatment, Griffith said.

Many people have problems before they recognize it, she said. 

The online gambling could create “invisible” problem gamblers at home, Sibley said.

“Your family might not even know, while they know when you are in a casino. The isolated individual is very much at risk.”

With files from Antonella Artuso, QMI Agency

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THE NUMBERS

$400M to $500M: Amounts Ontarians spend each on offshore gaming sites

$375M: Expected Ontario profits over five years from its site

9,800: Retails stores selling OLG lottery tickets


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