While Ontario has remained a source of great interest for operators looking to enter the Canadian online gaming market, the conversation has turned to which province could be next to employ a private-operator based model.
Industry observers have pointed to Alberta as the next best hope for an Ontario-like model in a Canadian province, in part due to the United Conservative Party of Alberta political leadership that was recently re-elected.
“I think Alberta is of great interest,” said Ron Segev, founding partner of the Vancouver-based Segev LLP firm. “I think the party that was just re-elected there has the same policy bent outlook as Ontario.”
One of the factors that has limited the potential for a private-operator based model across Canada is a strong existing product run by province-owned lottery corporations.
For example, in British Columbia, the PlayNow online casino brand has performed well, to the point that the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority recently followed Manitoba in adopting it to use in the neighboring province as well.
Ontario’s lottery product, PlayOLG, had not performed as strongly prior to the launch of the privately-operated market, although lottery officials say it has improved since the launch of the new online gaming model last year.
“I think we're getting some whispers that [Alberta] might be going this way,” Segev said. “I don't think that they would be replacing a superior model, so I would be looking there.”
The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) announced a request for proposals (RFP) in December 2021 to allow two private operators to run retail sports betting in the province but has taken no action since.
Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American regulatory affairs and responsible gambling for Entain, agreed that Alberta could potentially join Ontario, saying that although the province might not do it before the famed “Calgary Stampede” festival in July, interest will be high once Alberta does move forward.
“I think Alberta will go,” Lycka said. “They might not be able to do it by the stampede, but once they've done it, I do believe there might be a stampede for licenses just like there has been here in Ontario.
“I may have to eat my words, let's wait for the announcements of the re-elected administration, but they have given a number of indications that they, to put it in human speak, quite like the Ontario model, and might be minded to follow it.”
One province that both Segev and Lycka were less optimistic about was Quebec, where a group of operators formed the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition in May to advocate for a similar model to Ontario.
“We saw the Quebec coalition make its proposal and, in response, we saw Loto-Quebec come back and say that they have no plans to change things,” Segev said.
“I think Quebec too, culturally, is going to be concerned about the jobs piece,” he added.
“And I also think that [Loto-Quebec online gaming product] EspaceJeux, while it doesn't represent 100 percent of inbound handle or betting, it is relatively more successful than PlayOLG was, and I understand that they're doing even better than before.”
Lycka added that although Quebec officials have not expressed a willingness to pursue an Ontario-like model, they may be willing to ramp up enforcement of existing grey-market operators.
“Quebec is Quebec, we will respect the cultural idiosyncrasies, but at the very least, there have been certain rumors that the Quebec government may be inclined to clamp down on the existing offering, which has not happened yet, but which I would consider a positive,” he said.
“Entain made a commitment all around the world to only take business from regulated jurisdictions, so in general we are supportive of province, states, countries regulating.”
Segev and Lycka spoke during a panel discussion at the Canadian Gaming Summit held in Toronto from June 13-15.