CLUB TO SET UP GAMBLING SITE IN ATLANTIC PROVINCES

HALIFAX — An on-line club that has attracted 24,000 Atlantic Canadians will be used to set up one of the country’s first legal Internet gambling sites if the Atlantic Lottery Corp.’s board approves the plan, the agency’s president has confirmed.

Michelle Carinci, in an interview with The Canadian Press, said the website is already being used to create a database of potential on-line gamblers.

“If we were to go on-line, yes certainly we would have a database of players that have already shown an interest . . . that we could open up the market to fairly quickly,” she said.

While there are hundreds of betting sites on the Internet, most of them based offshore or operated by native bands, provincial lotteries have yet to enter the market because the Criminal Code prevents them from selling outside their provincial boundaries.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Lottery’s new eClub Rewards site encourages users to enter contests and play light-hearted games, such as on-line air hockey, in return for submitting personal information.

Gambling critics say the database, which includes players’ ages, addresses and even mothers’ maiden names, will allow the corporation to offer on-line gambling without violating the prohibition on inter-provincial sales.

Armed with a comprehensive list, the Atlantic Lottery Corp. could use it to prove its on-line gamblers are of legal age and from the region.

It’s a clever but misguided use of on-line technology, said Sol Boxenbaum, head of the Montreal-based counselling firm Viva Consulting.

“They’ll get around the export prohibition,” he said. “It’s not preventing, but actually creating more gambling problems down the road.”

Other jurisdictions appear to be headed in the same direction, he added.

For example, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is selling subscriptions for lottery ticket sales, provided customers either mail, e-mail or fax personal information and a credit card number to the corporation.

“They suddenly have a list of names of people who gamble. That’s what casinos do when you get a player’s card. They’re gathering data and building up a client base,” said Mr. Boxenbaum.

Ms. Carinci insisted the Atlantic Lottery Corp.’s move toward on-line gaming is driven by ethical motives.

With the rise of about 1,800 unregulated, on-line betting sites worldwide, governments must consider whether to offer the option of on-line betting that is legal and controlled.

“The other issue is the revenues leaving the region,” she said.

Ms. Carinci argues setting up provincial systems will lessen that drain of gambling cash to foreign operations.

However, the Atlantic website’s use of on-line computer games, such as Challenge the Chimp — a rock-paper-scissors game played against a shifty-eyed primate — concerns experts who are studying the rise of youth gambling addictions.

Jeffrey Derevensky, director of a gambling research institute at Montreal’s McGill University, said the Atlantic Lottery’s site — the most advanced in the country — holds an attraction to younger players.

He said governments are rushing into Internet gambling, eager for fresh revenues but unaware of the impact on young people.

“Nobody’s going to let a nine-year-old walk into a casino. But how do you ensure a nine-year-old isn’t going to gamble on the computer. Nobody’s monitoring one end of the game,” he said.

“This has potential to be a very big problem.”

Ms. Carinci said outside agencies are already cross-referencing the data received in the on-line club to ensure members are of legal age.

“If we were ever to offer goods and services on-line, that due diligence is very, very rigorous and we’re working very closely with the third parties who would do that,” explaind Ms. Carinci.

She said it remains unclear when the corporation will present an on-line gambling proposal to its board of directors, which includes representatives from all four Atlantic