British Columbia has become the first jurisdiction in North America to offer legal, online casino gambling.

In addition to sports betting, users of the B.C. Lottery Corporation's website can now play blackjack, roulette and craps. Poker is expected to be added in the fall.

At a press conference Thursday morning in Vancouver, Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said B.C. residents spend $100 million annually on online gambling and he wants to see that money stay within the province.

Coleman said there are currently 2,000 unregulated websites available in B.C.

"These are difficult to regulate because they're offshore. They're illegal. They have no accountability to the province."

The minister says the profits for the new online venture will be used to fund infrastructure, health care and higher education in B.C.

"By offering a secure and regulated site we keep some of those revenues in British Columbia but we can do it responsibly for the citizens of British Columbia," Coleman said.

The B.C. Lottery Corporation says they have put a number of safeguards in place to protect problem gamblers, including a clock that displays how long players have been online. It also has a player pre-set deposit limit.

BCLC said anyone registered on its self-exclusion program will be banned from the gambling website.

"We're very pleased that we're one of the few of the 2,000 websites that takes a strong commitment to responsible gaming. At least there's one," CEO Michael Graydon said.

Graydon admits the potential for problem gambling is "five or six per cent" more likely for internet gambling.

"We understand that going into it and that's why we're putting as many responsible gambling initiatives and layers in place to support our gamblers," he told reporters.

Registered, verified members will be allowed to spend up to $9,999 a week on the site. About 140,000 British Columbians are already registered on

New Democrat critic Shane Simpson, who attended the announcement, said the decision to legalize online gambling in B.C. is irresponsible.

"I've seen no evidence here that there are programs or that the work has been done to ensure that people are going to be protected under this system. So this concerns me a lot," Simpson said.

This week, a problem gambler from Delta, B.C., filed a statement of claim in B.C. Supreme Court against the BCLC, saying the self-exclusion program failed to keep her out of casinos.

Joyce May Ross, 54, said she lost more than $330,000 since 2007.

Simpson says the province's self exclusion program for problem gamblers has failed miserably.

"Enforcement on it has been totally inadequate," he said.

Graydon said after CTV's investigative series on the self-exclusion program aired last month, BCLC met with Coleman and launched a review into the controversial program. He added changes are coming within the year.

Minister Coleman was not available to comment about the program after the announcement.

Two months ago, the BCLC was recognized as a world leader for responsible gambling by the World Lottery Association.