Health implications of internet gambling
The OMA recommends that the province incorporates a harm reduction approach in the implementation of online gambling in Ontario.
The Ontario government is proposing to establish a new online market for internet gaming and recently released a discussion paper titled A Model for Internet Gaming in Ontario that outlines the government's preliminary thinking on key aspects of the iGaming model. In addition, Ontario announced in its November 2020 budget that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has been assigned the responsibility to conduct and manage Ontario's new online gaming market through a subsidiary, in addition to its role as regulator.
The Ontario Medical Association submitted a response to this discussion paper to the AGCO, voicing its concern that the discussion paper does not contain a health impact analysis, given the well documented health and social risks associated with online gambling.
What we know about online gambling and addiction
Many individuals in Ontario gamble, and the majority do so without causing harm to themselves or others. However, a minority (about 2.5 per cent) of Ontarians suffer from problem gambling or gambling addiction, a serious health issue with significant implications to gamblers and their families.
The following evidence suggests that Ontario should expect an increase in rates of gambling addiction upon the passing of the regulation and the expansion of online gaming through partnerships with private sector platforms:
- research studies show that the ability to pay electronically, play on credit, anonymity and the possibility to consume alcohol and/or drugs while playing are all factors increasing the risk of gambling addiction among online gamblers
- multiple studies have found that an increase in accessibility (for example, playing online) is positively associated with gambling prevalence and gambling addiction and that online gambling has greater addictive potential than physical-venue gambling
- studies from other Canadian jurisdictions that have implemented online gambling demonstrate a six-fold increase in gambling addiction among online gamblers compared to those using physical venues
Given what is known about the risks and harms of online gambling, the OMA recommends that the government conducts a health impact analysis that examines how gambling affects gamblers and their social networks and communities and subsequently incorporates a harm reduction approach in the implementation of online gambling in Ontario. Taking this approach can help develop public policy that aims to prevent or reduce gambling‐related harm, promote healthy decisions and protect vulnerable populations.