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Alberta Passes Bill That Could Lead to iGaming Expansion

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The change makes it clear it is not just the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission that can “conduct and manage” gaming activities.

May 24, 2024 • 14:55 ET

• 4 min read

It looks like the legislative groundwork is in place to allow for a little legal competition in online sports betting and internet casino gambling in the Western Canadian province of Alberta.

Alberta lawmakers passed Bill 16, the Red Tape Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, last week. The legislation received Royal Assent soon after, becoming law.

Bill 16 contains a variety of tweaks to existing laws, including several changes that have to do with gambling in Alberta that are now in effect.

One particular amendment, to Alberta’s Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, could ultimately allow the provincial government to enact a regulatory framework closer to that of Ontario, which has a competitive market for iGaming stocked with more than 40 different operators.

Three key words

The change makes it clear it is not just the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) that can “conduct and manage” gaming activities, such as its Play Alberta online sportsbook and casino, on behalf of the government. With Bill 16’s passage, the government itself could do the same. 

That creates the possibility of Alberta establishing a new avenue for online gambling, which Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction minister Dale Nally was tasked with doing by Premier Danielle Smith last year. 

Nally said at a press conference last month that Bill 16 would clarify the authority of his ministry to make policy decisions related to the alcohol and gaming sectors when there is a “direct impact” on government revenues.

“We would also further clarify that government, as well as Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis, has the authority to conduct and manage gaming activities in the province,” Nally added. 

Ontario passed legislation and regulations that allowed it to create a competitive iGaming market, the first of its kind for Canada. It did so in part by passing legislation that allowed the government to set up a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario that would conduct and manage online gaming schemes. It’s that subsidiary, iGaming Ontario, that operators contract with to offer online sports betting, casino gambling, and poker in the province.

Ontario’s competitive iGaming market went live in April 2022. Meanwhile, most other provinces have granted government-owned lottery and gaming corporations a legal monopoly over iGaming. 

Alberta has done just that thus far with AGLC’s Play Alberta, but the province has also been exploring the possibility of expanding sports betting and online casino gambling for a few years. 

While an RFP process launched in late 2021 related purely to legal sports betting in Alberta ultimately went nowhere, the sense now in the gaming industry is the province could adopt an Ontario-like model. 

Looking eastward

Bruce Caughill, managing director for Canada at BetRivers, said during the recent SBC Summit North American conference that “there seems to be every indication that [Alberta is] simply going to white label the Ontario licensing regime.”

He added that the hope is “you can transition right into that model if you’re already in Ontario.”

With Bill 16 now law, there is also hope Alberta, with a population similar to that of Kentucky and Oregon, could launch a new iGaming framework by 2025. 

Nally’s press secretary, Nicky Gocuan, told Covers that the amendments in Bill 16 “clarifying ministerial authority over gaming” came into effect last week when the legislation received Royal Assent. 

As for the next steps, Gocuan said the government would meet with the province’s 47 First Nations, including the six who are also casino operators, to seek input on iGaming.

“As part of our policy development process, and our move towards a more open regulated online gaming market, Alberta’s government will continue to examine best practices from other jurisdictions, including Ontario,” Gocuan said in an email. “As always, a key priority for the Province is to ensure that any expanded iGaming model in Alberta prioritizes the best interests of all Albertans.”

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