PointsBet Canada’s Nic Sulsky: What We’ve Learned So Far in Ontario Sports Betting

PointsBet Canada’s Nic Sulsky: What We’ve Learned So Far in Ontario Sports Betting
By Mark Keast

This week marks one month since legal Ontario sports betting went live, so it’s a good time to look back at how it has gone. It has been a harried first month of rollouts, mergers and industry sponsorship deals.

There have been speed bumps, like issues with financial services companies not wanting to fund gambling accounts. And Wednesday, the AGCO announced it had fined two operators (BetMGM Canada and PointsBet Canada) for alleged infractions of the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming relating to advertising and inducements.

We also have the Trailer Park Boys now educating people on sports betting. Fun factor is where it’s at, first, then quality of product, in-game wagering, interesting and unique markets, that’s where operators will soar or fail over the long term, according to industry insiders like Nic Sulsky, chief commercial officer of PointsBet Canada.

Sulsky is one of the leaders in a Canadian-first operation based in Toronto, part of the strategy of PointsBet (an Australian company) out of the gate.

Fill the operations with Canadians, be authentically Canadian and push that connection with the Canadian sports fan.

 
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'It's Gone Really Well'

OntarioBets: Look at the market at 36,000 feet, how has the first month gone on your front?

Nic Sulsky: It’s gone really well. It’s gone by really quickly. We’re happy about what we’ve seen in the market so far. We were the only operator to launch without any market database. We were starting from scratch. And ultimately we knew we wouldn’t be able to outspend our competition.

Our goal has been to try to cultivate quality users. It’s only been a month but what we’re seeing is a great collection of great users. We have a high first-time deposit number, a high daily bet per user, our retention, loyalty plans are working.

We’re focused on building a proper business like a pyramid, not like an inverted pyramid. A lot of operators typically launch markets going hard and heavy — giving out a lot of free money, without the foundation of a strong platform, healthy user base, and we didn’t want to fall into the same trap.

I don’t want to have massive users that don’t really care, that are going to go from book to book just looking for free money and free offers.

We believe we have the best product in the market. ... It’s much more efficient for us to build our business through high quality users. The best product is where you are going to want to spend most of your sports betting time, that’s where it will go through. Quality over quantity.

"We want our users to join our community and stay with us because we have a premium sports-betting and casino platform."

PointsBet Increasing Its Numbers

OntarioBets: What about those Morgan Stanley reports looking at market app download numbers?

Sulsky: The thing we take out of it is we’re growing every time those reports come out (while theScore Bet has been on top, PointsBet Canada has been increasing its share since launch, reaching 5% as of April 30, compared to 1-2% at market launch). 

Not every operator can say the same thing. That tells us we’re getting out there, that we’ve done a good job of creating partnerships and a strong narrative. Until April 4 we didn’t attempt to acquire customers aggressively, so we’ve only started introducing our brand to mass consumers.

We look at are we growing, are we retaining? We also look at aided awareness. We’ve seen in a number of surveys where PointsBet is hitting 14% of aided awareness after three weeks. FanDuel in the same report was 18%. That’s really exciting for us.

OntarioBets: What’s your response about the AGCO fine?

Sulsky: Right now in Ontario, we’re building the plane as we’re flying. All of us, all the operators, the regulator. The AGCO is our biggest partner. Period. We’re going to do everything in our power to abide by their regulations and honor their requests as they come in.

 
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PointsBet Learning in Real Time

OntarioBets: What have been some of the challenges so far?

Sulsky: The biggest thing for us was our decision to locate our business in Canada, boots on the ground, 52 people now. But the reality is the regulated gaming market is very new to Ontario so we have a team made up primarily of people who have never worked in the regulated online gaming space. I am one of the few people that has actual gaming experience within the PointsBet Canada family because I had been operating in the regulated daily fantasy sports industry in the U.S.

So the biggest thing for us has been our team has been learning in real time. April 4 was the first day our team had to react to marketing language, markets on social, customer support realities, and operational challenges that occasionally happen within the gaming industry in relation to know your customer, geolocation, data processing. There’s always going to be challenges on launches.

Most of the other operators, their teams are offshore, and they have more experience than we have. Our learning has been in reacting more quickly and more efficiently. And you can only do that as a team with real world experience. Our team is getting a lot of that right now.

One of Biggest Markets in North America?

OntarioBets: Is Ontario going to be as big a market as projected?

Sulsky: It’s too soon to tell, we’re a month in, but I am really bullish on what we’re seeing from the market in the early days. Obviously the only data I am seeing is PointsBet data but we’re seeing users betting frequently on multiple sports, on multiple days every week. So what that tells me about the Ontario market is that the projections may very well be light. We might be one of the biggest markets in North America, because of the mature reality of this market on launch. 

The grey market, as much as I berate it, it set up a company like PointsBet with a great product to take advantage of the mature experienced sports bettor who wants to play. I see really loyal, really active gamblers who are betting very frequently not just on their favourite team.

"I think as we see Ontario shake out over the next couple of years, I think product is going to win. Case in point, PointsBet has made it a focus to be the market leader in live in-play sports betting. Live, in-play betting will be a massive part of this industry. "

Look at baseball. There are operators who have made significant investments around baseball who don’t have player props, same-game parlay for Jays games. We believe eventually when users get introduced into sports betting based on another product, on the free money they are giving out, or the other incentives they are pushing through the databases they have acquired, once those users run out of free money and they have already been introduced into the world of sports betting and they understand it can be fun, they are going to start looking around for other products and other features, different types of markets, live in-play betting, same-game parlay across most sports, which is super fun.

It’s not about free money. It’s about experience and engagement. Sports betting is all about making the experience of watching sports more fun. Product is going to win. It always does.

Betting is not just betting on the Blue Jays to beat the Yankees. Betting is betting on the Jays to win, Vladdy Guerrero to hit a home run and Alek Manoah to throw more than seven strikeouts. You combine all those into a parlay, now that’s fun. The majority of operators don’t offer that right now. We do. 

And in the game if the Jays go down 2-0, then odds will turn in the Jays' favor and now I can bet in-game that the Jays will come back to win and bet in-game that Bo Bichette will be the next person to hit a home run. It’s not all about betting hundreds or thousands of dollars. It’s about creating a fun product to give the casual sports bettor and the mature sports bettor a slew of options and a slew of different ways to have more fun.

That’s the secret power of in-play live betting — it unlocks the community social aspect of betting. Once you made the bet on the Leafs to win there’s nothing more to do. Now all of a sudden you can talk socially that Mitch Marner is going to score the next goal, or the Leafs will score two goals this period, or the Leafs will win by three or more and you can make those bets live.

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Contributors

Mark Keast

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.