Minister Dale Nally discusses Alberta’s gaming path

Nally has said Alberta will pursue an Ontario-like model

One of the most eagerly awaited speakers at the Canadian Gaming Summit last week was Alberta’s Minister for Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Dale Nally.

Nally has been mandated by Premier Danielle Smith to assess the feasibility of opening up Alberta’s regulated online gaming and betting market to commercial operators. After months of swirling talk about what this review might throw up, Nally confirmed in an address at CGS that the province will pursue an Ontario-style open licensed model. Just like in Ontario, the market will not be regulated by the provincial crown corporation responsible for gaming, in Alberta’s case Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, but by a separate entity.

Nally spoke with Canadian Gaming Business in a little more depth about the plans for the province, why Alberta should be such an appealing market for operators and why First Nations considerations must be front and centre of all that happens next.

CGB: When it comes to evaluating what kind of model works best in Alberta for gaming, what have you been considering? What kinds of stakeholders have you spoken with and what are you looking to address?

Nally: As always, a key priority for any expanded iGaming model in Alberta is that it continues to prioritise the best interests of all Albertans. This includes generating the revenue that helps fund Alberta’s programs and services, as well as generating revenue for our First Nation partners. It’s also about maintaining our commitment to social responsibility. As part of our policy development process, we continue to examine best practices from other jurisdictions, including Ontario. We will be meeting with traditional casino operators, Racing Entertainment Centre operators and First Nations in Alberta to hear their perspectives on the potential implications and opportunities presented by an expanded iGaming model in Alberta. Our meetings with First Nations began in June, and we will continue to assess what kind of model works best for our province throughout this process.

CGB: While you’ve cited Ontario’s model as a direct influence, it could be difficult to cut and paste to Alberta. What are some of the distinct differences and local elements that make Alberta unique as a province and a gaming market?

Nally: Alberta’s gaming market is unique because our province is unique. We have the youngest population, the highest incomes and the best taxation system in Canada. We also have passionate sports fans who put their enthusiasm into supporting their favourite teams through the purchase of game tickets, merchandise and 50/50 draws.

Moreover, Alberta’s land-based charitable gaming model is unique.  In 2022-23, Alberta’s eligible charitable and religious organizations earned $383 million through their participation in this model, with First Nations charities receiving $73.3 million of these revenues. A portion of slot revenues earned at Alberta’s First Nation casinos also goes directly to fund initiatives in First Nations communities in Alberta, this revenue totalled $137.9 million in 2022-23. We need to ensure that any steps taken forward on online gaming complement the successes of our existing land-based gaming model.

CGB: Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns has reiterated that Alberta has some of the highest per-capita spending on gaming in Canada. Can you speak to the size of the opportunity, financial or otherwise, that you and other advocates see in regulated gaming within the province?

Nally: Right now, if you’re someone who likes to place a wager on a game in Alberta, the only way you can do it is through AGLC’s Play Alberta, the only regulated gaming and sportsbook platform in our province. PlayAlberta is a good platform with a wide variety of gaming options on it, but current estimates suggest that only captures about 45% of Alberta’s online gaming market. The rest is held by unregulated operators, many of which may not offer robust social responsibility tools that meet Alberta’s standards. We want to open our market to reduce the size and scope of the unregulated market, ensure that more of the money played in Alberta stays in Alberta and provide Albertans with more consumer choice.

CGB: Responsible gambling is crucial to a healthy gaming market. But recent cases such as Shawn Lemon’s ban from the CFL for betting while playing in Alberta have shone a spotlight on the interactions between sports and betting. How important is the issue of sporting integrity in Alberta and what work can be done in that regard?

Nally: Ensuring the integrity of online gambling in the province is one of the key reasons we’re looking to expand Alberta’s markets. About 55% of Alberta’s iGaming market is still estimated to be held by unregulated online gaming sites. These unregulated gaming providers are not subject to Alberta’s social responsibility policies, which are an important tool for promoting and supporting responsible gaming behaviors among Albertans who choose to gamble. The point is to have the tools and information available to help keep gaming as a game – something that is fun. In July 2023, I was mandated by Premier Smith to work with our Indigenous partners to finish developing and implementing Alberta’s online gaming strategy, with a focus on responsible gaming, and that’s just what we intend to do.

Incidents like the Shawn Lemon case are something that the government and the industry will continue to have to watch for both in Canada and elsewhere, as you are right that we also want to see integrity in how sports are played and the related outcomes of the sporting events individuals are betting on.

CGB: Alberta has a sizeable population, a popular lottery system, and a hefty number of keen sports fans. You have said that operators will like Alberta and will stay for the low taxes. What in particular do you think will appeal to operators about the province?

Nally: Albertans and Alberta businesses currently pay the lowest overall taxes in the country. Our general corporate income tax rate is 8%, some 30% lower than the next lowest province. We also continue to be a business-friendly province, as highlighted by our strong focus on Red Tape Reduction and eliminating the unnecessary processes and requirements that impede businesses, innovation and investment. Since 2019, we have successfully eliminated 33% of all our regulatory requirements, and we continue to have a strong focus on finding more ways to get out of the way of Albertans and Alberta businesses. Our higher incomes in Alberta, lower personal taxes and no provincial sales tax also mean that Albertans have more disposable income.

But sports are also very much a part of our culture and Albertans show it through their support of our professional teams, as well as their respective community foundations. The 50/50 draws from the Edmonton Oilers, for example, often generate more than $2 million per game, and have raised millions for local charities and community groups during the regular seasons and playoffs.

CGB: Your office told us last month that Alberta will engage with numerous stakeholders this year. There have been suggestions that early 2025 could be a likely timeline for a regulated online gaming market to launch. Can you tell us any more on this projected timeline?

Nally: Our conversations with the First Nations began in June and we expect the first round of these to wrap up in July. We will also engage with traditional casino operators and Racing Entertainment Centre operators this summer to hear their perspectives on the potential implications and opportunities presented by an expanded gaming model in Alberta. These conversations will be crucial in shaping our iGaming strategy and developing the final model for the province.

In terms of timelines, we expect we will have more details to share this fall, following these initial engagements.

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