|The Toronto-based horse racing track operator Woodbine Entertainment Group, has launched the first legal Internet gambling site Hpibet.com in Canada targeting its horse racing fans.|
According to Woodbine, the new online wagering system will accept bets on thoroughbred and standardbred racing at its racetracks in Southern Ontario and partner tracks in the rest of Canada, with plans for Hong Kong and Australia later in 2004. Hpibet.com expects to process more than $15-million in bets through the online gambling service this year.
The new website is available to anyone over 18 years of age (19 in British Columbia throughout Canada and there are no minimum balances or service fees. Hpibet.com allows online players to view the runner names, numbers and odds on screen as well as view their account balances at any time.
Like it's North American neighbour, the United States, Internet gambling legislation is still not well defined in Canada, either by the federal nor provincial governments. 'The online betting system is legal under Canadian government regulations as the CPMA has full jurisdiction over those that bet using any form of telecommunication device,' says Andrew Macdonald, Woodbine's Director of Business Development.
The Ontario Jockey Club, now relaunched as Woodbine Entertainment said it received the necessary regulatory approval to open a Hbibet.com from the Canadian Pari Mutuel Agency, a group that falls under the jurisdiction of Agriculture Canada, a federal government department. While Woodbine claims it has cleared all legal hurdles, like the law the verdict on its claim to legality is not clear.
'Under the Canadian Criminal Code, only a province or territory may operate a lottery scheme that is run over a computer network. Any other form of Internet gambling is illegal under Section 206 of the Canadian Criminal Code. I am not aware of any exceptions or legislation that would change his opinion,' says Patrick Charette, a spokesman with the Department of Justice in Ottawa.
More than anti-gambling critics Hpibet.com would first have to fight off legal issues before it draws customers or can stay online, going by the lack of legal clarity.
'The province has not approved any form of Internet gambling in Ontario nor is the government pursuing any form of Internet gambling legislation,' says Joe Vecsi, a Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp spokesman.