Not illegal? Wanna bet?

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

Canadians are gambling online.

Thousands of us.

It's a world-wide trend that according to a spokesman for the Ontario Gaming Commission takes in an industry-wide $12 billion annually in profits.

In Ontario, it is also illegal.

Only the provincial government has the authority to operate electronic gaming. As a result, most Internet gambling companies are set up outside North America.

"If they set up off-shore we can't prevent that," the OGC spokesman said.

Places such as the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos and South America have become havens for the industry, which largely is unregulated.

No reliable statistics are available as to the extent of participation of Internet gambling by Canadians but a study, conducted in 2001, shows that 85% of Canadians who place wagers have gambled online.

It isn't without risk. Often players have no idea who is running the website or how to contact the company. How do players know these companies will deliver their winnings? And how do they know the odds are fair? There are many unknowns in online gambling, such as how long has the company been in business, nevertheless, players are continuing to be lured by the greater convenience of playing in the privacy of home.

Section 207 of the Criminal Code of Canada, makes it illegal to operate, or place a bet through, an offshore Internet casino. But according to the latest numbers available, there were more than 2,500 Internet gambling sites in Canada and the U.S. in 2001.

What further muddies the water is that our own government is the biggest bookie. Gambling leads sin tax revenues with the provinces taking in $5.5 billion in 2000.

"It (online gambling) is an issue but the bottom line is it is illegal. If you're caught you could be charged," the OGC spokesman said, "I haven't heard anything about the government changing things."


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