Opinion: Canadian Sportsbooks Primed for the Ontario Market

Opinion: Canadian Sportsbooks Primed for the Ontario Market
By Bill Ordine

For sportsbook operators, the prospect of offering single-event sports wagering in Canada is akin to having a handful of substantial American states legalizing sports betting but without some of the attendant heavy lifting that is often part of similar efforts in the U.S. market.

When Bill C-218 passed the Canadian Parliament this summer, it cleared the way for Canadians to wager on sports in the traditional way, meaning singe-event betting, as opposed to being limited to the three-element parlay betting that a number of provinces have been offering for years.

Single-event wagering went live in Canada in late August as the OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.) launched PROLINE+ for Ontario sports betting.

The full Ontario online sports betting (with private operators) and iGaming markets will likely launch in early 2022.

Canada has a population of more than 35 million, just a few million less than California. The most populated province, Ontario (13.4 million people), will be like having another Pennsylvania (13 million) available to gambling operators. The next largest province, Quebec (about 8.2 million), will offer a market about the size of Virginia (8.6 million).

Together Ontario and Quebec make up nearly a combined 65% of the country’s total population with the next two largest provinces by population, British Columbia and Alberta, making up almost a combined 25%.

RELATED: Single-Event Sports Betting in Ontario: How We Got Here

Some estimates have put the of the total Canadian sports gambling market — when it reaches maturity, which likely won’t arrive for a few years — at about a $25 billion handle. Assuming that’s an accurate projection, exactly what that will mean in terms of revenue and profit to operators, and in tax money for governments, remains to be seen depending on tax rates and promotional expenses, among other factors.

However, from the perspective of sportsbook operators, Canada is among the lowest-hanging fruit in North America at the moment. The legislation has been passed and the marketplace is primed by a prior familiarity with online gambling. While provincial gambling agencies have been controlling online gambling in Canada, commercial operators can now take a run at the Canadian market with their sights immediately set on the betting market.

Hockey Will Be Heavily Wagered

It’s no shock that Ontario hockey betting is and will continue to be the favorite in Canada and that’s a good thing for operators because the season is seemingly endless. The NHL regular season, which is returning to a pre-COVID-19 pandemic slate of 82 games, began in October and ends in April for 2021-22. The playoffs, when the best hockey is played, run until June. And with 16 teams qualifying for the playoffs, betting enthusiasm is juiced throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The NHL’s new broadcast partner is ESPN. The two are reunited for the first time since 2004. Meanwhile, ESPN is now in business relationships with gambling operators DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario and Caesars Entertainment. So as these planets align, it all seems to portend good things for sportsbooks, the NHL, media companies and provincial governments.

After ice hockey, basketball, baseball and football should draw the most betting dollars. If fan interest is tied to home teams, Ontario has, in addition to the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, the NBA Toronto Raptors (2019 champions) and the MLB Toronto Blue Jays. NFL betting won’t be the same bonanza in Canada for sportsbooks that it is in the U.S. market, but gambling operators will get an additional lift from action on it as well as the Canadian Football League.

Keep Your Eye on Curling

A curious intersection of betting and a relatively low-profile sports emerged when online sportsbook operator PointsBet announced it had agreed to become the official and exclusive sports betting partner of Curling Canada.

RELATED: PointsBet Canada Scores National Reach with Curling Canada Deal

Curling (ice surface, long-handled brushes, “stones”) is a sport that, while not exclusive to Canada, is certainly far, far more popular in Canada than in the U.S.

So, that marriage will be interesting in that it offers an opportunity to observe whether the introduction of gambling to a sport can raise a niche sport’s popularity, even locally.

And we’ll soon see what it means for the Canadian sports betting market.

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Contributors

Bill Ordine

A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.