While Ontario’s new online gaming market is set to launch on Monday (April 4) with operators that include many of the leaders in the neighboring United States, the path to building market share will be a different one than the typically bonus-heavy American approach.
The province’s competitive sports betting and online casino gaming market is expected to launch Monday with about ten companies right from the start, said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, with more operators set to join thereafter.
To date, 16 operators have been approved for registrations through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), with various others who have said they expect to be live on Monday yet to receive approvals.
Many of the licensed operators in Ontario are also active in the U.S, including FanDuel, BetMGM, Rush Street Interactive, Unibet, PointsBet and Toronto's theScore, but although many of these operators have rolled out aggressive bonus offers to reel in customers at launch in the U.S., that approach is a non-starter in Ontario.
AGCO regulations prohibit public advertising that includes “inducements, bonuses, and credits,” including on targeted advertising and algorithm-based ads.
Companies can display bonus offers on their own websites, and through direct messaging, but only to players who have first consented on the operator’s site to allow them.
“Since consent must be obtained from players on the Ontario gaming site, any consent obtained elsewhere (e.g., on third-party websites) or prior to the opening of the market would not satisfy this standard,” the AGCO said in a guidance memo earlier this month addressing advertising and marketing.
The Ontario standards also say companies cannot describe bets as “risk-free” if the player needs to risk their own money or incur a loss to qualify for the promotion.
“The AGCO seeks to have entities align with the standards in advance of market launch, recognizing that they will not be in force until April 4, 2022,” the regulator said in its guidance.
“Their intent is clear though, and we want to convey our expectation that all prospective operators will make best efforts to conduct themselves in a fair, responsible and ethical manner during this transitional period,” it continued.
“Operator conduct, and evidence of their commitment to the objectives of Ontario’s standards, both leading up to and beyond the launch of the market, will be duly noted and reflected in the regulatory approach we take with each operator.”
The result of the regulations is a brand-focused marketing model that may more closely resemble many European jurisdictions than many U.S. states.
“The issue is they can advertise as much as they want, they just can't advertise bonuses and inducements,” Burns said, saying that the province has seen a “robust” advertising market in advance of Monday’s launch. “So it hasn't kept people from advertising.”
“I've heard a lot of companies are rather pleased with it, in the sense that it’s going to be about product and about customer service, and they’re happy to compete on that playing field,” said Burns.
One of those companies is theScore, whose CEO, John Levy, said that the regulations were favorable not just for theScore, but for online betting businesses in general and for the Ontarian consumer.
“I'm not shocked that it happened; I think it's good that it happened,” Levy said in an interview for the VIXIO GamblingCompliance Podcast.
“From a consumer standpoint, I also think it's good because it's bad behavior, and it's not what it's all about; sports betting is fun, sports betting is a part of their engagement. It's not all about how much can I grab up front from these guys, and when that lacks, I'm going to jump to the next one. That's not the type of customer that we're building here.”
For Levy, the additional focus on brand fits with theScore’s overall strategy for sports betting and with the company's history.
“For us, it's always been about the product and the brand, we talk about us being [either] a more sports betting company or a sports media company, we're really a technology company,” Levy said. “We didn't get where we got to but with the app, or even with our TV network years ago without cleverly thinking about how to present the content and the data, fast and effective and build that brand and build that relationship.”
“It makes that more important,” Levy said.
Going forward, the AGCO has made clear that advertising will continue to be an issue that it monitors through the early stages of the launch and beyond.
“The AGCO has not established specific regulatory limits or restrictions on advertising and marketing around overall volume, types of channels, or timing, However, based on our monitoring of industry activity in the months ahead, we will consider additional measures if warranted,” the regulator wrote in its launch guide for operators.
“I think it's going to be a balanced approach to advertising in Ontario,” Burns said. “I think there's clearly been a lot of discussion about what's going on in some U.S. jurisdictions and whether it's sustainable for the industry.
“Even the broadcasters here in Canada for television advertising have been looking at how they can look at building a long-term sustainable market, because anybody who’s seen what went on in the UK and some other jurisdictions where advertising wasn't curtailed and obviously then regulators and government stepped in and took drastic measures, I think there's a lot of people who don't want to see that either,” he added.
“So, it's finding that balance, and I think we've hit it,” Burns said.