The open, competitive internet gaming market in Ontario is about 18 months old and even with lingering concerns about advertising practices and regulations, gaming executives and provincial regulators believe it is a model other Canadian provinces can learn from when designing their own markets.
Currently, there are 47 operators and 71 gaming sites in Ontario, which increased from 24 operators and 47 gaming sites last year, according to Martha Otten, executive director of iGaming Ontario, the government agency that conducts online gambling in partnership with private operators.
Otten said Monday (October 9) that C$14bn (€9.75bn) was wagered online in the second quarter of the year, a 130 percent increase from the C$6.04bn in the same quarter last year. In terms of revenue, iGaming Ontario reported just over C$520m in the second quarter, compared to C$267m in the second quarter of 2022.
“So, you can see the growth that has taken place,” Otten said.
Otten was joined by Amanda Brewer, country manager with Kindred Group, Chantal Cipriano, vice president of legal, compliance and government relations at PointsBet Canada, and Shelley White, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council, to discuss how the Ontario market has grown since its launch.
Karin Schnarr, the new CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, moderated the discussion during the first day of the four-day Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Venetian Expo in Las Vegas.
“When you look at the number of operators that have come into the market. When you look at the growth quarter after quarter, it really is a testament to the model the AGCO developed for the province,” said Brewer.
“Not to say there aren’t things we can work on, but now that we have the time to collect ourselves … there are definitely some process improvements that we can make over the next couple of years to make operators’ jobs a little easier in the market.”
Brewer said Ontario was not going to replicate anything else that is going on around the world, because unlike in U.S. states such as New Jersey, operators were not coming into a new market that was launching from the ground up.
“Ontario has had a grey market for a very long time, which means you are trying to get operators who can work without remitting any revenue to the province to come in and get a license, which means you have to make those conditions attractive to operators,” Brewer said.
Otten agreed, saying Ontario had a very robust grey-market pre-regulation.
She said the provincial government’s reasons for regulating the market were to provide better player protections, and greater entertainment options to leverage private sector expertise and capture revenue that was leaving the province.
Cipriano added that the consultations between the industry, regulators and lawmakers began in 2019 and continue to this day on certain topics on an ongoing basis.
In terms of the regulatory experience, Cipriano said operators are fortunate that Ontario allows companies to have sports betting and casinos under one registration, so “we can offer a multitude of games” with “very few prohibitions.”
PointsBet in Australia does not have an online casino, and may not ever receive legislation approval to get an online casino, she said.
Cipriano said operators are required to put defined anti-money laundering and other programs in place, but “iGaming Ontario is also a partner in our financial success, which is something not overly common in the industry.”
“Because of the regulatory framework, we have had the opportunity to legitimize this industry,” Cipriano said. “It’s so mainstream now, very similar to cannabis and alcohol. I think there are challenges with any industry, but I think it’s a model that other provinces can leverage when they are planning their own model and future.”
For the rest of Canada, Brewer said there has been a lot of discussion about Alberta as government officials “finish writing their online gaming regulations.”
“What I’ll say about Alberta is that Ontario’s model works for Ontario,” Brewer said. “Keep in mind that every province interprets it differently. So, Alberta to take Ontario’s model and just apply it to Alberta will not work. Alberta will have to figure out a solution that works for Alberta, because Alberta will have to conduct and manage it.”
Brewer added that Ontario is a special place because of the expansion of alcohol sales and “there is a cannabis shop on every corner, but there is still some of what I call pearl-clutching that happens when we start talking about gambling.”
She criticized the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for still airing ads from illegal, unregulated online operators, as well as ads with the iGaming Ontario logo on them airing in places like Edmonton.
Brewer said there was still a lot of education that needs to happen because most people do not understand the responsible gambling standards companies need to live by or the checks and balances the regulators have over the industry as well as the artificial intelligence that is being used in the background to make sure companies are aware of any signs of problem gambling.
“Our national newspapers still feel like they can tar and feather us, because they judge us to be insufficient or non-compliant or wilfully trying to subvert minors with our sports-betting advertising,” Brewer said. “That is something we need to address sooner rather than later.”