For Online Poker Players & Operators, Regulated Ontario Market Will Bear Watching

For Online Poker Players & Operators, Regulated Ontario Market Will Bear Watching
By Bill Ordine

With government-sanctioned Ontario online poker debuting this month, the province will become an interesting laboratory for what internet poker could look like in a regulated environment and in an atmosphere where there is fairly adequate if not overwhelmingly favorable liquidity.

Liquidity refers to the number of players available to participate. Generally speaking, the more participants the better it is for the players as operators can offer a greater variety of games at more price points, and for tournament play, larger prize pools with bigger payouts are possible.

When the pieces start falling into place in Ontario and operators have their poker rooms up-and-running, the game will be drawing its player pool from a population base of about 15 million adults. That’s larger than any individual U.S. jurisdiction where online poker is currently legal.

The fully regulated Ontario sports betting and iGaming markets launched Monday.

Gamblers in Ontario had been anticipating Monday’s launch for months.

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Large Player Pool

The Ontario potential player base is even larger than the combined player pool of the three current compact poker states of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware where merged competition has been possible (but hasn’t occurred very often).

In the U.S., a compact among states is necessary in order to share a common pool of players among jurisdictions. One such compact already exists, the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA). It includes the aforementioned Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada, and Michigan is applying to join.

To be clear, Canadian poker players have been able to play in a so-called online “gray” market there. But in terms of creating a regulated, government-licensed online poker environment — with the consumer protections implied by such a market — Ontario will be an interesting laboratory for forecasting what a larger player pool environment would look like in America for online poker, assuming enough U.S. states join the MSIGA.

To be watched is what types of financial incentives online poker room operators offer players to recruit and retain Ontario online casino customers.

In the heyday of online poker — meaning pre-Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (2006) and certainly before the widespread shutdown of online poker in the U.S. on April 15, 2011 — a popular financial incentive was rake-back. Rake-back was the practice of operators refunding to players a portion of the commission (the rake) operators charge for dealing the game.

Customers who played extremely conservatively and were able to play several tables at once had a good chance to grind out small profits consistently with the rake-back. It may not have been the most exciting way to try to make a living but there were plenty of folks willing to give it a try.

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How Will Ontario Recruit Players?

So, in a legal environment in Ontario, with a multiple online operators vying to recruit poker customers and keep them, it very well could produce the same type of bonus and promotion giveaways that the online sports gambling world has become famous for over the last three years.

And should operators super-charge their tournaments with massive prizes, there may even be a niche of poker tourism for Ontario as U.S. players make the trip to Ontario in order to play in those events.

“Players must be physically located in Ontario to play games but there is no Ontario residency requirement,” according to Ontario regulators.

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WSOP, Others Will Enter Market

The Ontario online poker situation presents a number of intriguing possible scenarios. For instance, the World Series of Poker is partnering with the GGPoker platform for WSOP.CA. Just the attraction of the WSOP brand has the potential for vibrant tournament action.

It still remains to be seen how many gambling operators will launch online poker in Ontario. Poker has never been regarded as a huge money-maker, certainly not the way that online slot machines can be. But from the perspective of players, the more competition, the better.

As far as Ontario somehow being linked to U.S. jurisdictions that also have legalized online poker, such a venture — as promising as it sounds — presents enormous issues that would have to be resolved. In short, don’t count on it.

But just as it stands now, Ontario online poker should offer lessons that operators can study and benefit from for the U.S. market, and that could be a good thing for American poker fans.



Bill Ordine

Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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