Quebec Moves To IP-block Online Gambling

The Quebec provincial government unfortunately walked the talk despite opposition from several sources. The legislature passed Bill 74 on May 17 to order the IP-blocking of unauthorized online gambling sites. Fortunately for online casino players in Quebec, the bill’s opponents, that include the federal Canadian government and the local internet service providers (ISPs), are likely to take the matter to courts.

Bill 74 authorizes the minister of finance to order ISPs to IP-block unauthorized online gambling websites. In that sense it is only an enabling provision and the blocking is not yet in effect. Loto-Quebec is required to compile a list of all the offending sites that ISPs must block and the minister of finance is to officially order the ISPs to block the sites. Then the ISPs will be given 30 days to enforce this blacklist at their own expense. If they fail to do so then the bill allows for fines of up to $100,000 to be handed out per incident.

EspaceJeux, which is the provincial online gambling site run by Loto-Quebec, will obviously not be on the blacklist. The whole exercise is being undertaken to create a monopoly for it and thereby to augment its revenue by around $27 million per year. It is expected that Loto-Quebec's blacklist will not include online gambling sites owned by Amaya Gaming, a long time Loto-Quebec B2B partner. The understanding seems to be that Loto-Quebec will receive a chunk of the revenue the Amaya sites earn from Quebec.

The plans for Bill 74 were announced a year ago and have since been opposed by the ISPs, the online gambling industry and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). CIRA has gone on record stating that censorship of this type is unprecedented in Canada. CIRA had also pointed out that telecommunications issues fall under federal jurisdiction in Canada and not provincial. Finance Minister Carlos Leitao had responded that Quebec would skirt any constitutional concerns by treating the issue as a public health matter and that only Loto-Quebec had the tools to protect the province's problem gamblers from self-abuse. In April, 2016, Bill 74 was even discussed in the House of Commons and Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly had averred belief in net neutrality. Melanie had indicated that her ministry would be having ongoing discussion with Quebec officials regarding this bill. Obviously the discussion, if it took place, has come to nought and the courtroom will become the arena for further engagement.

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