A new study on online gambling, carried out by the Direction régionale de santé publique (DRSP) in Montreal, shows that 65,000 Montrealers – equivalent to the total population of the municipality of Mirabel – have initiated online gambling during the first year of the pandemic.

The study was carried out by combining data from three sources: the National Institute of Public Health, which carried out a study on the topic of online gambling during the first 12 months of the pandemic, the ENHJEU survey, also carried out in 2021 by a group of researchers across Quebec, as well as data from the organization Jeu: aide et référence.

La Presse obtained this document, whose title is eloquent: “The new normal of online gambling in Montreal”.

The trend towards an increase in online gambling observed across Quebec is confirmed in Montreal, regional figures show immediately. From 4.4% of online gamers in 2018, we are now at 12% of online game enthusiasts on the territory of the metropolis. About a third of Montreal players – around 65,000 people – would have started playing online during the first year of the pandemic.

“When online gambling was nationalized in 2010, approximately 1.5% of the population of Quebec gambled online. But the offer was not at all the same and neither were the online habits, ”observes Jean-François Biron, public health expert at the DRSP on games of chance and money. “The upward movement was already underway before the pandemic, but there has been a sharp increase, exacerbated by the pandemic. »

A third of online gamblers only buy lottery tickets or “gratteux”, games of chance that carry relatively little risk of addiction. However, more than a quarter of gamblers (27%) play slot machines and a fifth (21%) participate in sports betting.

However, the rate of problem gamblers is around a third in the case of slot machines (35%) and sports betting (32%). And the frequency of play is sometimes very high among Montrealers: one in six players (15%) play it once a day or several times a day.

In order to “better understand the influence of the pandemic on the presence of gambling-related distress”, figures from the organization Gambling: help and referral were also examined. The number of requests for assistance has dropped drastically during the pandemic, from 2,705 in 2019 to 862 in 2022. There has been a marked drop in requests for video lottery terminals, but an increase in consultations relating to online gambling .

And now, with major gaming sites reopened and accessible as they were before the pandemic, “where are we going?” asks Mr. Biron. An increase or stabilization of online gambling? We don’t know yet.”

For the DRSP, these figures nevertheless show that the question of online gambling must be treated “a little more seriously”, avoiding, for example, pushing lottery players towards other online games where the risks are more students. It would also be necessary to set out new guidelines for advertising online games. An information leaflet intended for the general public has also been produced by the DRSP on the basis of these new data.

And, in this context, what about this proposed gaming hall at the Bell Centre? La Presse revealed at the end of February that Loto-Québec had been planning for several months the opening of a gaming lounge at the Bell Center, in collaboration with Groupe CH, owner of the Montreal Canadiens. The establishment, located in the premises of the former 1909 restaurant Taverne Moderne, would have several hundred slot machines and sports betting terminals.

The DRSP has still not received a concrete project from the Crown corporation, said Mr. Biron, and has therefore not been able to give its opinion on the matter. “But we noted that the project raises fears, and anger. »

And one of them is Serge Sasseville, councilor for the Peter-McGill district, who spoke at the city council on Tuesday to express his opposition to the project and his desire to block it.

“This is a neighborhood where we already have huge problems with crime, vulnerable people, homelessness, violence, drug trafficking, prostitution. So it’s out of the question for such a project to be open at the Bell Center, as far as I’m concerned,” he told city council.

Mr. Sasseville believes that the project should necessarily pass before the borough council of Ville-Marie, where he sits with five other elected officials. “I only have one voice on the borough council, but I can assure you that I will make it strong enough to oppose this project so that it never sees the light of day, he said. I’m going to paraphrase Bette Davis in All About Eve: buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. »