Canadian Gaming Summit: Industry Applauds Ontario Regulatory Body’s Transparency

Canadian Gaming Summit: Industry Applauds Ontario Regulatory Body’s Transparency
By Mark Keast

Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gaming for Entain, said what’s impressed him the most about the launch of a regulated Ontario sports betting market has been the balance between commercial opportunities and a strong legal foundation for the industry.

Lycka was part of a panel at this week’s Canadian Gaming Summit at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that dove into the legal foundation for sports betting in the province and the current state of the regulatory model. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regulates the Ontario online casino and sports betting markets and iGaming Ontario conducts and manages it.

Details of the regulatory model were vague during the run up to the April 4 launch. And those will no doubt continue to evolve since Ontario is the first jurisdiction in the Canada to offer legal single event sports betting.

Entain PLC’s bwin and “party” brands are now live in Ontario. 

“[The AGCO and iGaming Ontario] has been incredibly transparent,” Lycka said Tuesday. “Putting up all the guidance, having an open-door policy, everyone in the industry has appreciated that. The Ontario regulation has a high level of responsibility at its heart, but is also very attractive from the commercial perspective, and that is what the industry is seeking.”

Sitting next to Lycka was IGO’s general counsel Jesse Todres and the AGCO’s chief operating officer/operations division Dave Philips, so Lycka was speaking to those two when he said that. Also on the panel, moderated by Michael Lipton, senior partner at Dickinson Wright LLP, were public policy consultant Chris Winsor and Salim Adatia, vice president of GLI.

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How Big Will Ontario Market Be?

Lipton referenced projections that sets the size of the Ontario market this year at $1.6 billion, going up to $2.36 billion next year. There has been talk this week that the government would be releasing revenue numbers during the conferences, shedding a spotlight on how the industry has performed two months in.

Todres was able to expand a little on the market’s performance so far.

“At the end of the day, we are still waiting on a new government [a provincial election was held June 2], so I will say you will be hearing from iGaming Ontario in the near future, with the actuals,” he said. “That said I would say we are happy with where the actuals are right now. Stay tuned. We’re also continuing to onboard new operators and we are hoping to have a relatively busy summer in terms of that.”

Concerning ongoing issues surrounding operators and advertising, including recent AGCO sanctions, Philips expanded on how that’s gone so far, in terms of setting compliance priorities, focusing on “what matters most, as opposed to taking a scorched earth approach and trying to deal with everything.”

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Top 2 AGCO Priorities

Advertising as well as exit requirements for those in the unregulated market have been two top AGCO priorities, Philips added. The AGCO is constantly communicating with those in the unregulated market to make sure they understand expectations.

The AGCO just got its first major upload of compliance market data from operators that officials are reviewing to measure against the many criteria that was set out. 

“From a compliance standpoint we are really pleased with what we have seen so far but the work has just begun,” he said. 

Those operators who were registered before April 4 but have not received approval are still able to able to operate in the grey market, but the AGCO is monitoring those players so they quickly move through the process.

“We’ve set a very clear policies with respect to exit and transition expectations … very specific deadlines with respect to timelines they have to meet for things like disclosure,” Philips said. “At the same time we’ve made clear we would take a very flexible and pragmatic approach as businesses transition. We are in the middle of all that. We’re flexible, but obviously that flexibility is not going to last.”

The outreach program from the regulator is being well received, by those who haven’t been regulated but want to be, Lipton added, a reflection of the maturity of the industry, taking the new regime very seriously. Still, there’s been concern in the province that it’s taking too long for some to come into full compliance. 

Licensed operators in the province have 20% of their gaming revenue taxed by the government.

“By and large we are [heartened], yes,” Philips said.  

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Responsible Gaming Addressed

Lycka was asked about responsible gaming standards in Ontario.

“The Ontario responsible gambling standards are way more robust than anything currently in existence south of the border, while they are getting there,” he said. “It will force us, the licensed operators, to not only talk the talk and preach about responsible gambling but walk the walk [when it comes] to responsible gambling cases and purposes.”

A game changer in Ontario was allowing grey market operators to migrate their customers into the new market.

“[Our biggest challenge] is the general challenge that global operators have, and that’s prioritization, because we put Ontario at the top of the list,” Lycka said. “We have entered the market, we need the keep the juices flowing, with other jurisdictions coming our way, like Brazil. We need to remain focused, and that’s the challenge in a multi-jurisdiction context.”   

The Canadian Gaming Summit is Canada’s annual conference for gaming professionals and runs through Thursday.

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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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