Court: Quebec’s Plan to Block Online Gaming Sites Unconstitutional

Court: Quebec’s Plan to Block Online Gaming Sites Unconstitutional

The Canadian province of Quebec, which has been trying to prop up its gaming business, passed a bill in 2016 that allowed it to order Internet service providers to block the websites of its competitors. Online gaming sites and Internet service providers took Quebec to court, and the law was declared unconstitutional.

Gambling in Quebec

Like much of Canada, Quebec has several different forms of gambling available. The province has destination and resort casinos, as well as First Nations casinos, in which slot gaming and table gaming are offered. In addition, Quebec allows horse track and dog track betting, as well as parlay betting on sports games. Bingo halls and lotteries are also legal. Some provinces offer online gaming as well, although the rules for online betting vary from province to province.

The Loto-Quebec Issue

Loto-Quebec has been one of the least successful lottery companies across Canada, even though it is in one of the larger and more populated areas of the country. In what the telecommunications industry has called protectionism that prevented other online gaming sites from setting up in Quebec, the National Assembly passed Bill No. 74. The government said it was a consumer protection law that allowed the province to order Internet service providers to block online gaming sites that competed with Loto-Quebec. The province argued it was providing protections for consumers against online gaming sites because the government was concerned there were many consumers who were at risk for problem gambling, despite research that said less than 1 percent of gamblers can be considered problem gamblers.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association challenged the law because it argued the province does not have jurisdiction over Internet service providers. Instead, the group argued the right to decide who provides Internet services falls to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission. The commission states carriers cannot control the content of the Internet or change the meaning or purpose of the content. Therefore, the province was violating the law.

What the Court Said

The court ruled in favor of the telecommunications industry, in part because it said telecommunications were regulated by the federal government rather than the provincial governments. The court also ruled the law was not intended to protect consumers, but rather the lottery of Quebec.

The telecommunications industry was pleased with the ruling. However, it noted the province may try to restrict gaming sites nationally rather than through the provinces. There is currently a push by a coalition to have the communications commission order telecommunications companies to block websites on a national scale, especially those sites with pirated content, including gaming websites.

The Cost to Quebec

Quebec estimated before the court ruling that the law could put nearly $30 million into the province’s beleaguered company, Espacejeux. The company, which runs the online lottery games for Canada, has been having financial problems for some time. The province is deciding whether it wants to appeal the ruling. It remains to be seen whether the lottery company owned by the province will be able to dig itself out and offer products that consumers are interested in.

The company may want to take a cue from other successful companies that offer lottery products online throughout Canada. For example, other companies have combined lottery-style games with online video poker and slots to offer their customers additional options for their money. Also, some lottery companies offer free tickets for frequent players and other incentives to bring customers to their websites. Companies have also used video game-style games to attract new customers who want the look and feel of video games while gambling.

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