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Emily D. Swoboda

Will It Be Door One, Two or Three?

1 May 2008

A Canadian politician would like to see a change in the country's I-gaming policy, or at least a move toward change, by early summer.

Roy Cullen, member of Parliament, met with Justice Minister Robert D. Nicholson in mid April to discuss three options for dealing with illegal online gambling in Canada.

The options include enforcing the laws already written in the Criminal Code covering illegal gambling; opening the market to regulated online gambling; and a third option, which he has on reserve if the government does not take any action:

A payments ban.

In March, Mr. Cullen drafted a bill not unlike the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which would require banks to block transactions for unlawful Internet gambling.

He acknowledged, however, that a payments ban may not be the most practical solution, especially in light of the troubles the United States has had in trying to enforce the UIGEA.

"I understand there are some issues in the U.S. about how it (UIGEA) is actually administered and the kind of success or otherwise it's having," Mr. Cullen told Interactive Gaming News. "So, I'm not pretending that that bill, if I do table it, will solve the problem."

Mr. Cullen, who represents electoral district Etobicoke North in the House of Commons, said he would prefer to see an open, regulated market for all of Canada and is now awaiting Mr. Nicholson's response on his three proposals.

"I've given him three options and told him that I'm not going to sit back do nothing," he said. "But I'm giving the government a chance to respond, and if they don't, I will table my private members bill."

On issues Internet gambling, Mr. Cullen's weightiest constituent -- and the driving force behind the legislation -- is Woodbine Entertainment Group, operator of Toronto-based Woodbine Racetrack, which has expressed a strong desire to "level the playing field" and expand its offering to include online gaming.

"Woodbine is seeing their market share eroded," he said. "They've said to me that they would gladly get into online gaming of all kinds and varieties, but that they can't involve themselves in anything that isn't licensed or illegal because that puts their racing license in jeopardy."

Mr. Cullen made clear that he is aware of the sensitivities surrounding the Kahnawake reserve located just outside of Montreal, Quebec. He said it is not his intention to exclude or single out any one party in the I-gaming industry.

"Somehow I've been characterized as going after Kahnawake, but it's nothing to do with that," he said. "Quite frankly, I don't care where it's coming from. My preferred option would be to open (the market) and the federal government has the means to open it up and regulate it. If they could do that and these operators in Kahnawake want to apply to the province, why not?"

Mr. Cullen explained how Kahnawake would fit into each scheme.

Under the proposed payments ban, Kahnawake, just as any other jurisdiction, would fall under the general domain of the bill. Regardless of where the operator were based, if it were unlicensed the banks would have to block the payments. Mr. Cullen's bill does not differentiate between offshore operators and those based in Canada.

In terms of enforcement, however, he was a little less clear. He said enforcing the Criminal Code in Kahnawake may involve working with law enforcement authorities on the reserve.

If the Canadian government were to go the way of regulation, however, then there would be nothing to stop operators in Kahnawake from applying for a license to operate in the province.

Mr. Cullen said talks with the federal government are progressing satisfactorily and that the justice minister has seemed open to new ideas.

"It's going at a reasonable pace, and so I am quite happy with the progress," he said. "So, in the next short while we're going to regroup and just say, 'Where are we?'

"But there are some complexities in here," he continued, "so I'm not expecting that we'll get there in the next day or two, but before the House recesses for the summer I'd like to think we've got a solution that we're going to move on."

Mr. Cullen has announced that he will not seek re-election, though he will continue to serve until the end of this parliament. Canada 's next federal elections are slated to be held on Oct. 19, 2009.

Will It Be Door One, Two or Three? is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda