TORONTO - Ontario is looking at cashing in on Internet gambling, following the lead of other Canadian provinces in having its lottery corporation possibly deliver online wagering.

Virtual gambling is a reality and the Ontario government obviously cannot ignore it for long, said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"The issue is whether or not we should be involved in that, and I think we're going to have to make a call," McGuinty said.

"It's something we can't avoid."

Paul Godfrey, the freshly minted chairman of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, said last week he wants the province to provide Internet gambling instead of watching potential revenues go to other provinces and offshore websites.

Canadian governments know they're losing out on money that's being spent at the more than 2,000 online gambling sites, said Jeff Derevensky of McGill University.

"They've done the studies," said Derevensky, with the university's International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviours.

"If they can recoup a slice of it, then that (money) could be better used in government-run programs."

Allowing the gaming corporation to offer gambling in the wild, unregulated world of the Internet doesn't raise the same type of ethical questions as blocking the sale of beer and wine in corner stores, said McGuinty.

"We can control whether or not there's corner-store sales for beer and wine, (but) Internet gambling is taking place," he said. "The issue is what do we want to do in the face of that."

Governments should be concerned about normalizing gambling, but they've already gone that route and even changed the name to gaming, said Derevensky.

"They're selling a form of entertainment," he said.

Young people who are taught about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex aren't learning anything about gambling in school, added Derevensky, and many already use online gambling sites.

"It puts more young people at risk, (but) the reality is, they're already doing it," he said about governments getting into online gambling.

The Opposition said the Ontario government would need to make sure young people who shouldn't be gambling don't access gambling sites.

"The issue we need to deal with is the impact of it," said Progressive Conservative critic Christine Elliott. "We need to make sure there are some controls in place to protect young people particularly."

Loto-Quebec's online poker site will launch this fall, with Finance Minister Raymond Bachand predicting the province will pull in about $50 million in dividends after three years.

The Atlantic Lottery Corp.'s website, in operation for six years, has five interactive games including Hold'em Poker. British Columbia offers online poker, and imposes a $10,000 a week limit on gamblers.

The Western Canada Lottery Corp., which oversees gambling in the three Prairie provinces and the three territories, has said it has no plans to move into online gambling.

Revenues have been falling at OLG, in part because of declining visits from Americans to the province's casinos since tighter border security requirements went into effect.

OLG takes in about $6.5 billion a year, and has been plagued with problems ranging from questionable insider wins and malfunctioning slot machines and to lawsuits from gambling addicts and botched scratch-and-win tickets.

The chairman of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, Democrat Barney Frank, is sponsoring legislation to roll back a 2006 law that bans American financial institutions from handling transactions made to and from Internet gambling sites. The bill would allow the U.S. Treasury Department to license and regulate online gambling companies that service American customers.

The U.S. Treasury Department estimates online gambling is a $16 billion a year industry.