Can the Quebec Government Really Stop the Free Play to Real Money Online Casino Loophole?

Loto-Quebec continually blames access to international real money online casino sites in Canada as a reason for low profits from their business.

Online casino and sports betting legislation in Quebec has been at the forefront of political discussion over the last few years. Loto-Quebec continually blames access to international real money online casino sites in Canada as a reason for low profits from their business. Now, a new loophole has surfaced that allows another gateway to real money casino play through advertisements about free to play casinos.

The only real money online casinos allowed to operate in Quebec, or anywhere in Canada, are those sanctioned by the provincial governments. In Quebec that is Espace Jeux operated by Loto-Quebec. The problem is that international online casinos do not operate out of Canada but Canadian players are legally able to play at these casinos online. These casinos cater to Canadian players and offer bonuses in CAD. The one thing they cannot do is advertise in Canada so the only way for them to get traffic has been through affiliate websites that review the casinos. These affiliate websites also cannot advertise in Canada but they specialize in being the first search results in Google for those Canadians searching to gamble online.

Recently, some real money online casinos have found a way around the ban on online gambling advertising by creating a free to play casino website with the same brand name as the real money one. In Canada, free to play gaming can be legally advertised on all media platforms. The trick is that the advertisement can lead to confusion when the potential player goes online to search for the casino. The first result in a search engine will likely be the real money version and not the free to play version. The online casino companies focus their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on the money-making site and put no effort in promoting the free site. Players can even play the casino games and online slots for free once they sign up to the real money site but, now the ability to play for real is a simple button press away. The tactic allows the vast majority of free play searchers to actually sign up at the real money online casino.

An example of this phenomenon is Jackpot City which has a free to play site under one .net URL but has their main money website under .com. Further complicating things is that Jackpot City plays a SEO game where they make 5 casino URLS with variations of .org, ,net. And .com, with and without the word casino in it, so that the first 5 search results for “Jackpot City” are 4 or 5 real money casinos that lead directly to the main platform. The free play site is not even visible on the search results, even if you add the word free to the search, since they also optimize those main pages to get that keyword.

Another example is the sports betting website BetRegal, which even sponsors the CFL using their .net free branded website, but the company is really an international real money sports operator that could not advertise legally. The free play website is cheap gimmick in order show they have free play and advertise under that “brand”. It originally launched with 6 slot games to play, particularly odd for a sports betting website. Yet, they have their brand name on the CFL and on TV. Anyone that looks for them in search will see the real money option first and the search result for the free play look unclickable below it with no optimization to make it look like the result people intended to find.

Speaking with Bradley Grant of the Real Money Online Casinos Canada website, which is an onlinecasino affiliate site that focuses on sending traffic to casinos based on search traffic. He states “what the online casinos are doing with the ambiguous TV and radio marketing and ensuring that the resulting online searches are misleading is not a tactic that should be allowed.” The casino and affiliate sites that use search engines to generate traffic should be clear on what they do and where the user is going. People that search for affiliate website results are specifically and actively looking to gamble online for real money. He continued “Searching for a free play site but only seeing search results under the same brand for real money gambling is misleading at best and outright dangerous at worst.”

The new CEO and President of Loto-Quebec, Jean-Francois Bergeron, recently spoke about how the international online casinos are impacting their ability to be competitive. Inreference to some specific TV ads about the free play casinos he states “It’s half legal. The free games they offer us through their TV ads are legal, but we all know that their business model is not based on free play. It’s pay-to-play and that’s not legal” He also later admits that the access and this loophole is not the only reason for the poor performance of Loto-Quebec. “Loto-Québec is determined to compete with illegal operators. We must continue to do better, we must continue to improve our offer” he said.

The main problem here is that Loto-Quebec or even the provincial government can do anything about it. The advertising standards are set by the CRTC and is a national problem. The Quebec Government ran into similar problems in 2016 when it introduced Bill 74 that would have made Internet Service Providers block international online casinoplatforms. That was struck down by the Quebec Superior Court in 2018 as unconstitutional and outside of the jurisdiction of the province. These laws are governed by the CRTC and made by the Canadian Parliament.

Bergeron has called police to get involved with stopping what he perceives as illegal actions by real money online casinosbut it really is fruitless. The police have no jurisdiction or law to punish these operators and the advertisements meet all legal requirements as they stand now. It is only by changing the advertising standards and laws of the country that any progress can be made to curtail this practice.