Off to the Races: First Day of Ontario Sports Betting was Eventful

Off to the Races: First Day of Ontario Sports Betting was Eventful
By Mark Keast

Perhaps, as iGaming Ontario Board Chair Dave Forestel said, it was appropriate to host the formal Canadian Gaming Association kickoff event for Ontario sports betting at the Toronto Stock Exchange.

“It's fitting that this first sort of official event today takes place here,” Forestel said Monday morning. “I think there's a lot to lend itself to the market here in Ontario. Of course there’s a large population. I think we have a very competitive kind of revenue share tax rate.

”There’s a huge book of games that are available to players that each of [the licensed sportsbooks] will be able to offer. But also the dynamic capital markets here. I really hope that that becomes a feature of the success of gaming in Ontario going forward.”

By end of Tuesday, 17 gaming sites were fully registered and approved operators in Ontario. There are another 13 pending, including DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario.

“This is a vitally important regulation,” Dani Lipkin, director of global business development at the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange, said at the event. “This is going to create jobs. Ontario is going to continue to be a technology powerhouse in the gaming industry.

”We couldn't be prouder to be celebrating the launch here this morning.”

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'It’s Exciting What We Have Here'

At the TSX event, John Levy, founder and CEO of theScore, which launched theScore Bet in Ontario on Monday, said the digital build at his company goes back to 2012 when its sold its TV business to Rogers. Monday’s market rollout was the end of one road for Levy, and the start of another.

“You always knew that sports betting was part of the passion, one of the reasons why people loved sports,” he said. “We tapped into that young audience pretty early, with our TV network. We told ourselves, ‘Let’s try to scratch an itch that the other guys at the time weren’t doing.’

“Less than 18 months we were at 150 employees, maybe. Now we’re at over 600-700 employees. We’re so lucky to be in this market … it’s exciting what we have here in Ontario. The ancillary benefits of this, the side effect growth, are enormous. When you talk about potential for growth.”

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‘Ontario Got It Right’

For example, Paysafe, a company that offers specialized payment solutions, announced Monday it is now open in Ontario with a series of new private operator payment partnerships, including theScore Bet and PointsBet Canada. Paysafe has powered payments for OLG’s iGaming brand since 2015.

“We had a mature, illegal gray market, and now we’re bringing all of this into the light,” Levy said. “Companies like ours are going to do well with this. The gray market was so robust. But then you had people that didn’t want to bet with those companies, they didn’t feel comfortable. They wanted companies they could trust.

“Ontario got it right. In the U.S., we got to learn from [the markets] that got it right, and those that didn’t.”

According to Canadian Gaming Association President & CEO Paul Burns, it appeared most people got it right on Monday.

“I am hearing positive things, no big glitches for those in coming today,” he told OntarioBets on Monday afternoon. “Only minor bumps.”

At the end of the day, only one thing mattered — a fully open, regulated digital gaming and sports betting market is now alive and kicking in Ontario.

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New Level of Engagement

Levy said factoring everything in, Ontario will be the “prize” jurisdiction when looking at North America.

We shall see. Bottom line is sports fans can now tap into a new level of engagement on this front that’s legal. The key for these sportsbook companies is going to be customer retention, a year from now, as Levy added Monday. Companies and their Ontario sports betting apps will be competing on product and service.

After the TSX rollout, it was a busy day of office celebrations, sportsbook rollout confirmations and evening drinks and parties, with talk about who went live Monday and who didn’t.

A spokesman for PointsBet said 50 seconds after 12 a.m. ET Monday it became one of the first private sportsbook companies to take a legal wager, and shortly after accepted a $500 two-leg parlay of North Carolina over Kansas and the Leafs over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, however, the time for talk is over. Vixio Regulatory Intelligence projects Ontario generating gross revenues of $989 million CAD in Year 1 and $1.86 billion CAD by 2026. It’s time to get real.

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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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