These are busy days for Canadian Gaming Association president & CEO Paul Burns. That’s understandable, with an open, regulated Ontario sports betting market set to open in early April.
Still, he told OntarioBets.com it became that much more real for him recently in Hamilton, sitting in the stands at Tim Hortons Field with his daughter for the Heritage Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres.
“I was hearing people in the stands chatting about the bets that they had made on the game,” he says. The OLG announced an agreement with the NHL before the big game last week where PROLINE is now the NHL’s first official sportsbook in Canada. PROLINE is the only place in the province for legal single game sports betting.
That will change April 4, the scheduled launch date for the full, regulated online sports betting and Ontario online casino markets.
OntarioBets: The sports betting handle in New York in February was $1.5 billion, the second-biggest month ever in the U.S. Has news like that impacted your projection for Ontario, in terms of sports-betting handle size?
Paul Burns: I think it’s going to be really interesting to see. It could be close. There’s a lot going on in this province already. Operators have been in the gray market for years here and will continue to do so until they enter the regulated market.
I don’t like comparing because there are different features to the Ontario market. But I think we could definitely be very competitive with New York. It depends on the sports calendar, timing, the amount of offerings. Remember in February it was Super Bowl and NFL playoffs, which is a boon for sportsbooks.
We’ll see what happens in terms of the number of opportunities [for sports bettors]. I am hearing we’ll have 10-15 operators in the first month.
"I think consumer choice is a good thing. People are going to want to see a wide variety in the coming month."
Come Over from the Gray Side
OntarioBets: Will the new legal Ontario market be attractive enough to bring over gray market providers?
PB: I think so, yeah. You are already seeing that some have been licensed already. I think it’s going to be very attractive for operators and consumers. There is going to be very good choice for consumers and a competitive market. The industry is seeking out regulated markets. They prefer that.
With companies already approved by the AGCO to operate here and others in the application process who are intending to operate, there will be upwards of 30 operators. [Those gray market providers] have a strong customer base in Ontario, and they are not going to want to give those customers up.
OntarioBets: Have you seen any potential challenges in the market, such as potential legal challenges, that will delay that April 4 launch date at all?
PB: No. People are loving to speculate about this and that, but it’s all speculation. The fact is the government is moving forward and there are companies that have invested and are making plans and are committed to the Ontario market. They have done all this work and are waiting for April 4. And that’s all they have left to do.
At this point the government has no reason not to do it. And their intentions are to move forward because by waiting the money keeps leaving offshore. No one benefits in Ontario with a delay and the government knows that. And there’s no feeling or any indication given by government that that’s going to be the case.
‘Encouraging Sign for the Industry’
OntarioBets: The recent study by Deloitte (and in another study Deloitte estimated legal single-event betting could result in $28 billion in legal market wagers by five years post-reform) indicating just a few Canadian adults (19.2%) surveyed know we have a legal market now, does that surprise you?
PB: I may contend that some people may have never thought it was illegal [laughing], with their ability to access and the volume of wagering that went on. There are a lot of fans following sports that are seeing the increase in conversation about sports betting.
"What that study did show is that there are a lot of sports fans in Canada who are interested in betting on their favorite sports and teams, and that’s an encouraging sign for the industry."
OntarioBets: What was the main thing that came out of the responsible advertising for iGaming webinar (hosted by IAB Canada and ThinkTV, including Burns, AGCO executives Brent McCurdy and Jay Welbourn and iGaming Ontario exec David Smith) last week?
PB: The main thing is mass marketing inducements and bonuses. It doesn’t mean they can’t be offered, they can be, it’s just how they are offered. You can’t put them in your mass market advertising. You can offer it on your site, for the player, in terms of them opening an account, but [the objective] was to take this out of mainstream advertising. [Inducement, bonus and credit offers may also be provided through direct marketing to individuals that have first consented, on the gaming site, to receive them, according to the AGCO.]
The objective is to promote responsible gaming. In Ontario you will find a nice balance in terms of what can be advertised. There is still a lot of opportunity [to advertise and promote]. In the end it’s going to be about the product and companies will have to sell themselves on that. It’s a small measure, taking away inducements and bonuses in advertising. It is measured, and I think companies will adapt.