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Ana Gomes de Almeida
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Gambling in Alberta: Facts & Statistics on Gambling Habits

Cover image for post Gambling in Alberta
Gambling in Alberta
Gambling in Alberta: Facts & Statistics on Gambling Habits

Gambling is legal in Alberta, and in September 2021, the province went a step further by legalizing single-event sports betting. But although this made many Albertan bettors happy, some issues still linger on when it comes to the province’s gambling regulations.

Despite Alberta having legalized gambling all the way back in 1975, online gambling is not as regulated.

While there are legal online sportsbooks for Albertans to enjoy — namely, PlayAlberta and Sport Select — many offshore operators continue to accept bettors from this province, and there’s not much Alberta can do about it.

One potential solution would be to follow in the footsteps of Ontario, the only fully regulated province in Canada. But would that really solve these issues or merely mask them?

in this guide

We decided to answer the questions relating to Alberta’s gambling laws, habits, and potential gambling issues.

We’ll touch on who can gamble in Alberta, how many persons suffer from gambling addiction in the province, and whether allowing private operators the way Ontario already has could influence gambling in the province positively or negatively.

Who Can Gamble in Alberta?

In order to gamble legally in Alberta, a person needs to be at least 18 years of age. Alberta is, along with Manitoba and Quebec, one of the provinces with the lowest legal betting age in Canada.

The remaining provinces require their bettors to be 19 years of age or older.

Why do These Limitations Even Exist?

The age when a person is allowed to gamble is the same age they’re allowed to drink. Both are based around the idea that once a person is fully adult, they can make their own choices regarding these fun but potentially dangerous acts.

And because a person is deemed fully adult at different ages (18, 19, even 21 south of the border), the minimum gambling age differs, too.

Essentially, these laws exist in order to protect minors. Because, psychologically speaking, their brains aren’t fully formed yet, they’re a lot more impressionable and prone to risk-taking.

Allowing them to gamble could lead to dangerous consequences, and we’re already seeing this in the rise of video gaming addicts.

How Do Sportsbooks Prevent Minors From Betting?

Through age-verification. It may sound simple, but it’s effective. KYC (Know Your Customer) procedures are obligatory for sportsbooks and casinos.

understanding KYC

These procedures serve to protect customers’ money from any attempted fraud or money laundering.

In gambling, these come down to identity checks, in which every new customer needs to prove they are who they claim to be.

That’s why betting sites will always ask for some sort of identity proof, such as ID, bank statements, passport, or even a selfie with a certain document.

Through this, they’re making sure no minors slip through the cracks and are allowed to place a bet.

How Many Albertans Gamble?

Recent studies suggest that over 80% of adults in Alberta gamble at least once a year. In fact, they spend over $23 billion a year on legal gambling activities.

What’s worrying, however, is that 2 out of 3 young Albertans have gambled at least once as well. While this tends to be done via betting on cards with friends or wagering some money on pool games, some also bet with friends on professional sports.

This could be an issue because a gambling addiction may start to form even before they’re legally allowed to gamble online. In fact, a study conducted by Alberta Health Services concluded that youth ages 12-24 are at increased risk of developing gambling issues.

While it’s difficult to find numbers for Alberta alone, a study conducted by Canadian Community Health (per Calgary Herald) confirmed that 2% of Canadians 15 and over suffer from gambling-related problems.

When you compare this number to 7.2% of Australians having a potential gambling issue and just 0.5% of Brits suffering from it, that puts Canada among countries with a moderate gambling addiction problem.

Alberta isn’t likely to be an exception to this, as gambling is legal in the province, and so is single-event betting.

The previously mentioned study by Alberta Health Services also determined that men are two to three times more likely than women to develop gambling problems.

Speculating on how Albertans’ gambling habits would change once Alberta introduces two additional private operators would have to be based on what’s happening in Ontario.

Being the only province with a couple of dozen different operators, Ontario serves as a good starting point for this discussion. Still, we should take any conclusions with a grain of salt for a couple of reasons:

  • Albertans’ gambling habits may be different from those of Ontarians.
  • Having two extra sportsbooks to choose from can hardly compare to having a couple of dozen of them.

With that out of the way, let’s do some informed speculation.

Alberta’s gambling future

We took some numbers and projected to the best of our abilities what Alberta opening up to private operators could potentially mean for the province.

Ontario’s betting market has been fully legalized for a year now. Most of the changes the legalization brought on were positive.

For example, whereas 70% of the province’s bettors used to place their bets on unregulated websites, the number of those who still exclusively do it is only 14.7%.

Meanwhile, a staggering 85.3% of gamblers use regulated sites, with only 19.5% of those having used unregulated websites as well.

Based on these numbers, Alberta opening up to start accepting private operators could mean more bettors would be turning to regulated sites.

Not only would that be good for Alberta’s budget, but it also means bettors would be better protected.

In order to get an official license to operate in a Canadian province, brands have to jump through some hoops and make sure they are offering a safe betting experience and are dedicated to responsible gambling and preventing gambling addiction.

This is where some slightly worrying numbers come into play.

Whereas 33% of Ontarians used to be registered on online betting sites two months after the market had opened, a year later, 38.8% of Ontarians admit to having gambled. This isn’t surprising, given the rise of gambling ads in the province following the legalization.

This isn’t a drastic difference, so it’s hard to say whether the same would have happened with the market remaining in its previously grey area.

Still, it’s good to keep these numbers in mind and ensure that, should Alberta open to private operators, that’s handled with maximum responsibility. This is especially important when keeping in mind that the recent pandemic caused an increase in online gambling.

But as already mentioned, having regulated online operators who adhere to strict provincial gambling laws may mean gamblers wouldn’t be as likely to develop a gambling addiction that goes unnoticed.

A 2015 study is in favour of this conclusion, as it showed that online gamblers actually have a decreased chance of developing gambling issues compared to those who gamble offline.

With such strict rules and regulations in place, it’s no surprise.

Where to Get Help in Alberta

If you are struggling with a gambling problem in Alberta, there are several hotlines you can call for help. Be sure to act quickly: the sooner you admit the problem and get help, the better for you and your loved ones.


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