Anniversary of Ontario Sportsbooks & Online Casinos Reflects Evolution

Anniversary of Ontario Sportsbooks & Online Casinos Reflects Evolution
By Mark Keast
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Today, the market for Ontario online casinos and sports betting celebrates its one-year anniversary.

The story so far has been one of mostly peaks, with a few shallow valleys, depending on whom you speak with.

First, the peaks.

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Number of Ontario Operators Explodes

When the market launched on April 4, 2022, 13 operators had signed operating agreements. Now there are more than 40 legal entities running live websites in Canada, offering a range of products, from casino games to live dealer products to Ontario sports betting.

According to data released Tuesday morning by iGaming Ontario 9GO), over the first 12 months, Ontario has delivered about $35.6 billion in total wagers and around $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue, making the province one of the top 5 iGaming jurisdictions in North America.

There are more than 1.6 million active online gaming accounts (keeping in mind that players often have several accounts on the go). 

And according to an AGCO/IPSOS study, also released Tuesday, more than 85% of players over the past three months used regulated Ontario casino apps to wager. When the market launched a year ago, an estimated 70% of online gambling was on unregulated sites.

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Market Remains Open and Competitive

With the new open license model, some of the biggest operators and supplier brands have gone live in Canada’s most populous province: BetMGM Ontario casino, DraftKings, PointsBet, theScore Bet, FanDuel, Caesars, Rush Street Interactive, Bet365, Kindred, 888 and many more.

And unlike some U.S. jurisdictions, Ontario does not have three or four brands dominating the market, Canadian Gaming Association president and CEO Paul Burns said.

That’s the positive – a regulatory regime created by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) in the province that has encouraged so many industry players to jump in. Government objectives at the outset of this were both consumer protection but also consumer choice. They’ve accomplished that, even after brands such as Coolbet and Play-On Casino closed their operations. 

Burns sees the market competitiveness among iGaming operators and Ontario sports betting apps as the thing that has surprised him the most so far. 

“I think the level of interest in the market is larger than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “We had an idea of what the grey market was through some of the legacy operators – the Betways, Bet365s, the Pinnacles. But what I think is quite remarkable is the interest from others who want to get their feet wet in the North American market. I think it’s been great to see the interest that has come from smaller players, people who had unique ideas, wanting to try some different types of product offerings, focusing on narrower segments of the marketplace. That’s the fantastic part about it. 

“You’ve got a wide range of products. You’ve got a fair revenue share structure. You’ve got a strong regulatory regime that took and recognized some of the industry best practices being deployed across other jurisdictions in the world.”

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Leader of theScore Speaks on Development

Said Benjie Levy, head of PENN Interactive and president and COO of theScore, which operates theScore Bet Ontario Sportsbook: “As Canada’s first province to establish a legal market for private operators, Ontario has distinguished itself, while proving the widespread benefits that derive from a consumer friendly and commercially minded framework. We believe Ontario’s successful model provides a road map for other provinces to modernize their online gaming frameworks and stamp out the illegal grey market.

“Ontario has quickly become one of the most robust and competitive online gaming markets in North America. We commend the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and iGaming Ontario (iGO) for the successful establishment of a regulated online gaming framework that provides important consumer protections, features comprehensive responsible gaming measures and contributes to economic development throughout the province.”

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Proliferation of Ads, Marketing Costs Among Issues

Still, ubiquitous gaming ads running all various media platforms has been a big concern for some. Burns talked about the too-slow rollout of retail sports betting – pointing to the AGCO, iGaming Ontario, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which conducts and manages casinos in the provinces, as the cause. He said that situation could have been handled better.

Operators pointed to other issues.

“An element I have found surprising, is the delta between the expected GGR from Ontario in Year 1 versus what the traditional top of funnel marketing costs have turned out to be,” said Aly Lalani, head of marketing for BetRegal. “Operators have to compete in an auction effectively to find outlets to support marketing strategies. It’s not a sustainable model when there are brands willing to continuously outspend each other, seemingly without too much of a concern for profitability.”

Michael Moskowitz, the founding partner and CEO of NorthStar Bet, which operates the NorthStar Casino Ontario and the NorthStar Bets sportsbook, chimed in: “Looking back, Year 1 threw us a couple curveballs, but no major surprises. We anticipated strong consumer demand and expected fierce competition to attract and retain players; both of those things happened.

“The growth of the sector in the first year has lived up to the hype, which is good news for operators. The competitiveness of the sector, and sheer number of operators provides choice for consumers, which is great for players across Ontario. We’re looking forward to watching the market continue to mature and expand in Year 2.”

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Focus on Accuracy and Customer Understanding

Amanda Brewer, country manager for Canada at the Kindred Group, points to several mainstream media outlets that produced content suggesting Ontario’s iGaming industry – which includes online Ontario slot games – was behaving unethically.

“We continue to have to push back against conjecture, misinformation, and half-truths, which is unfortunate, as the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario built its regulations with responsible gaming standards as the bedrock,” she says. “The legalization of iGaming brought the activity into the light, and the iGaming Ontario logo means that operators have undergone due diligence, been awarded licenses, and are following the same regulations (which are publicly available).

“It’s a reminder that there is still a lot of work to do to educate people that our industry is legal and regulated, and that operators like Kindred, with its Player Safety-Early Detection System, are constantly monitoring player activity to detect at-risk behaviour. The vast majority of our customers are social gamblers who play for enjoyment, and we work hard to keep it that way.”

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Similarities to U.S. Markets

Steven Salz is the co-founder and CEO of Rivalry, a Toronto-based company. Last month, Rivalry launched its interactive Ontario online casino platform.

He pointed to operators who were “heavy-handed” with promotional offers to obtain as much market share as a quickly as possible, similar to what has happened with online sports betting launches in U.S. states.

“Most operators are now caught in promotional limbos, fighting for fleeting customers with bonus offers in the wake of any meaningful consumer touchpoints,” Salz said. “The importance of product differentiation, brand equity, and targeting specific demographics and communities is becoming increasingly evident.”

And that’s where the rubber will hit the road going forward. The market will be built on product and customer experience, not who’s giving away the most money, because they can’t do that.

“Maybe for some people that’s a challenge,” Burns added. “I think Ontario is a semi-mature market. It’s not mature in the sense of people having cycled through all the product. I think people are still shopping, I think they are still open to looking at what’s new. It’s a market that continually embraces innovation. 

“I have met a lot of great people who are going to be launching sites soon. That’s fantastic, that they’re willing to risk their capital and come to Ontario.”

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Mark Keast

Mark Keast has recently covered the sports betting industry in Canada for The Parleh, and is a long-time sportswriter and editor, most notably with the Toronto Sun.

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