Alberta Begins Fact-Finding For Private Online Gaming Market

February 15, 2024
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Alberta officials have started the process to create an open market for online gambling, potentially following the lead of fellow Canadian province Ontario into the space.
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Alberta officials have started the process to create an open market for online gambling, potentially following the lead of fellow Canadian province Ontario into the space.

Dale Nally, the province's minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction, traveled to the ICE convention in London last week to further research the issue and speak with stakeholders.

Nally received a mandate letter from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith last July that, among other issues, included “working with Indigenous partners, finish developing and implementing Alberta’s online gaming strategy with a focus on responsible gaming and provincial and Indigenous revenue generation.”

“If you like Ontario, you’re going to like Alberta,” Nally told ICE delegates, adding that although the two provinces are similar in many ways, Alberta has lower tax rates and, as a result, citizens have higher disposable incomes.

“Many of you should be asking the question, why are we not in Alberta right now?” Nally said. “Well, that’s because we haven’t done a good enough job and Ontario has, but the fact is we’re here and we’re looking at what Ontario has done.

“We’re kicking the tires, and we know that we need to get to a place with an open free market for iGaming.”

Paul Burns, president of the Canadian Gaming Association, was optimistic about the developments to date and what they mean for the future.

“I think [Nally] came away with a clear understanding of what he had heard and where they are going to be and the work they are going to do,” Burns told Vixio GamblingCompliance.

“The next step is more digging in and further consultation with industry and making deliberations on a series of policy questions they’re working on.

"The intention is there. I don’t think it’s an if; it’s a when,” Burns added. “The statements from the government over the summer were pretty clear, so they’re getting to work, which is great.”

The question for many potential stakeholders will be how closely an Alberta model follows the Ontario open market format, which launched in April 2022.

“Obviously, the closer they are to Ontario standards, the better it is for the industry to be able to enter the market,” Burns said. “I think that was something [Nally] heard and I think he’s recognized he’s heard that.”

Ontario’s process of launching its competitive market took roughly three years from the government announcing its plans to operators going live.

Burns said that although having the Ontario model to learn from may help, the Alberta process will not be an overnight one either.

“I wouldn’t expect this to take years, but it’s going to take a while,” he said.

The province had previously dipped its toes into the water of a more inclusive sports-betting market, with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) issuing a request for proposals in 2021 to select two private operators to offer sports betting in the province.

However, the AGLC never selected a winning bidder, and the process largely stalled out until Smith’s mandate letter in July.

In addition to AGLC’s PlayAlberta online offering, the province has a host of operators that do business in what is considered a “grey” market, making one of the key issues for Alberta officials to decide being whether they will allow a free transition into the regulated space for the grey market operators similar to Ontario. 

Additional reporting by Joe Ewens.

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