Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A new opium

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Manitoba opened its online gambling website earlier this year, as a means of giving people here a "safe, secure" and government-regulated venue for gaming online. In fact, it was a defensive move as Internet gambling is seriously popular, sees huge bets being laid down and was being used by Manitobans long before the "legal" site was set up. The government hopes to cut into the profits with its own site.

But the government has done little to prepare for the impact of the expansion into gaming. Online gaming is popular, in part, due to convenience -- cozy up in your pajamas with a laptop and plug a virtual VLT.

Authorities on gambling and problem gambling see online gaming as a huge concern because of its attractiveness. There is evidence that addiction is higher among gamblers who play online. Yet, according to Tracie Afifi, a University of Manitoba professor who researches problem gambling, this province knows very little about how many Manitobans gamble online or their habits. Nor is there good evidence about how the adoption of online gaming in other jurisdictions affected addiction behaviour.

It is predictable, experts such as Afifi believe, that online gaming here will hike gambling addictions, a real concern given this province already has amongst the highest prevalence of problem gambling in Canada. What is needed now is for the Selinger government to put in place funding for good tracking and research, to detect the impact on addictions online gaming may have, in order to counter it with well-funded and effective prevention and treatment programs in the community.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 A10

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