When Ontario launches regulated online poker, casino gaming, and sports betting on April 4, 2022, the market will initially be segregated. There will be no shared liquidity and poker players in Ontario will not be able to go head-to-head with players from other parts of Canada, at least for the time being.
Despite this, early indications are that several online poker heavyweights in the US — specifically, BetMGM Poker, PokerStars, and WSOP — still plan to launch in the province and are eager to do so. The market is of considerable size — with 14.6 million people, Ontario, the most populous Canadian province, would be the fifth-largest US state by population.
Meanwhile, the province’s new regulator revealed that it has given some consideration to forming an inter-jurisdictional compact with other provinces or any of Canada’s three territories.
Thirty iGaming Operators File Applications
Companies who successfully enter the new Ontario market will have met rigorous standards of game and operator integrity, fairness, player protections, and social responsibility. Late last month, iGaming Ontario (iGO), a lottery subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), said private operators that have already registered with AGCO and executed an operating agreement with iGO can launch on April 4. For its part, iGO was established last July to help facilitate the expansion of gambling in the province.
“Consumers can be assured that companies who successfully enter the new Ontario market will have met rigorous standards of game and operator integrity, fairness, player protections, and social responsibility, allowing all players to play with confidence,” iGO Executive Director Martha Otton said at the time.
This week, iGO told US Gaming Review that there were “currently 30 operators that have applied with the AGCO, which is working closely with all applicants to help them prepare for the opening of the market.”
A search of the AGCO database lists three operators for internet gaming: PointsBet, Rivalry, and theScore Bet.
Interjurisdictional Gaming Compact “Considered”
iGO officials also said that “pooled liquidity will not be allowed in the Ontario regulated market,” which means poker rooms in Ontario will initially start as a ring-fenced market.
When pressed if Ontario had ever considered forming or joining an inter-jurisdictional gaming compact with other parts of Canada, the agency conceded “this has been considered, but iGO cannot comment on the potential outcome at this time.”
The compact idea appears to be in just a conceptual stage. In a follow-up statement, iGO said it was not yet in a position to identify what other jurisdictions could be approached, how many would join a compact, or what the agency’s official position on such an agreement is.
“iGO did not get as far in its considerations,” the agency said, adding that it “can’t comment any further on liquidity at this time.”
Poker Operators Getting Ready
Nevertheless, gaming companies are busy making preparations to deploy in the Great White North.
During an interim results presentation last August”, Flutter CEO Peter Jackson mentioned Canada as one of its top three unregulated markets where it was active during 1H 2019 but did not elaborate on its plans there. At the time, Flutter, which owns the PokerStars brand, made note of the fact that 90% of the markets where it was active were regulated.
[BetMGM has] expectations to go live in Illinois next month, as well as Canada later this year. A message posted Thursday to a “Poker in Ontario” bulletin board on the Two Plus Two platform purportedly shows PokerStars revealing plans to relaunch in Ontario as a licensed operator.
In November, Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg mentioned Canada during that company’s Q3 2021 earnings call. “We anticipate that we will be among the better-positioned operators in Ontario given our long management contract history with Caesars Windsor,” he said. Reeg made no mention of the Caesars-owned WSOP brand possibly launching in the province for poker.
Jonathan Halkyard, CFO of MGM Resorts International, which owns half of BetMGM, told analysts during an earnings call Wednesday to discuss Q4 2021 that the company has “expectations to go live in Illinois next month, as well as Canada later this year.”
CEO Bill Hornbuckle took it a step further. “We’re stretching BetMGM into Canada in April,” he said. “We’re excited by its growth and the other possibilities that may present themselves.” Entain owns the other half of BetMGM.
Sportsbooks Also Looking to Set Up Shop
Several sportsbooks have also expressed interest, or are already making plans, to launch in Ontario. Those books include BetMGM Sports, BetRivers, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet.
Until last August, sports betting was technically not legal nor illegal. The vertical became legal after the Parliament of Canada passed Bill C-218, which amended the federal Criminal Code to allow single-event sports betting, on August 12, 2021. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a tax rate.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) currently offers PROLINE, a platform that offers online sports betting and some online casino games. OLG launched PROLINE+, an online sportsbook that supports single-event sports wagering, on August 27, 2021, days after C-218 took effect.
iGO does not have regulatory authority over the OLG.