Ontario Ends Grey-Market Status With Historic Online Gaming Launch

April 5, 2022
A new era of online gaming in Canada officially launched on Monday as 13 approved operators went live in Ontario with regulated sports betting and online casino offerings.


A new era of online gaming in Canada officially launched on Monday (April 4) as 13 approved operators went live in Ontario with regulated sports betting and online casino offerings.

The launch completes a multi-year process to effectively privatize Ontario’s regulated online gaming market, which was technically a monopoly held by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, despite formidable competition from dozens of unlicensed operators existing in what was previously considered a grey market.

That privatization effort has also overlapped with the legalization of single-game sports wagering last June throughout Canada, which previously only allowed parlay-style wagering under federal law.

As of Monday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) now regulates operators, with a mix of American and European-based companies receiving the green light to launch on opening day after receiving approval from the AGCO and executing a commercial contract with the agency's new operating subsidiary, iGaming Ontario (iGO).

“This is a monumental day that establishes Ontario as an international leader in online gaming,” said Martha Otton, executive director of iGO.

“After years of anticipation culminating in historic legislation followed by months of hard work by all stakeholders, we have reached today’s launch of a legal internet gaming market out from under its previous grey market standing,” Otton said.

BetMGM and Flutter's FanDuel, which have been among the American leaders in both sports betting and online casino, were included in the opening batch of operators, as were Caesars, Rush Street Interactive's BetRivers and PointsBet.

Canadian-based duo theScore and Rivalry were also among the first in the door, joined by established European brands bet365, 888, Unibet, Coolbet, LeoVegas and Royal Panda.

Among the most notable absentees from the Ontario market at launch are Entain's bwin and PartyPoker, both of which were approved for registrations by the AGCO last Friday (April 1) but are yet to go live.

Other major brands yet to receive a registration include Betway, widely thought to be one of Canada's two largest grey-market operators alongside bet365, as well as DraftKings.

“DraftKings is working closely with provincial regulators to bring our top-rated mobile sportsbook and casino products to Ontario as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. A spokesperson for Betway parent company Super Group did not respond to a request for comment on its status in Ontario.

With at least 13 more online gambling sites already approved by the AGCO but yet to launch, it is expected that several dozen, including a number of those currently operating as grey market entities while applications to enter the regulated market remain pending, are expected to go live in the coming weeks and months.

The province has adopted a clear policy of encouraging its network of unregulated online operators to transition to the regulated market, with no requirement for them to cease activities prior to receiving a license as was recently imposed in the Netherlands, or to pull out of other Canadian provinces as a precondition of an Ontario registration.

“We’re encouraged to see so much interest from companies looking to enter Ontario’s market and applying to the AGCO and iGO to operate in the province,” the AGCO said in a statement. “Though not every operator will be ready to launch their services today, more and more will come online as they become ready.

“Players will soon be able to play on their preferred sites with the assurance that those sites are being closely monitored for game integrity, player protections and responsible gaming.”

Speaking at a Monday morning launch event at the Toronto Stock Exchange, the CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) said Ontario’s decision making would allow the province to “reset its approach” to the gambling industry, shifting the focus to “encouraging competition while incentivizing capital investment, job creation and economic growth.”

“As of today there will be no more grey market in Ontario; only black. With the regulations in place the province finally has the tools to deal with unlicensed operators,” said the CGA’s Paul Burns to applause.

Although the initial launches may be done, the battle for market share is just beginning for operators in a market that, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance forecasts, could be worth as much as C$3.2bn in annual gross revenue by 2026 for sports betting and online casino combined.

“I don't think you make a comparison to some of the other jurisdictions because the grey market was so robust,” said John Levy, CEO of theScore, during a panel discussion at the Toronto Stock Exchange event.

“I think all the numbers we're talking about, in my view, I think are going to be conservative, honestly, and I think especially with the competitive environment, everybody's coming in.

“I joke about all these big U.S. companies sitting at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo jonesing to get across in the region to get into Ontario … but I think that’s going to drive innovation and drive people to be more responsive.”

In Focus: Ontario Online Opening

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