Igaming In Canada: 2023 year in review

December 28, 2023 6:35 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
December 28, 2023 6:35 PM

As another year comes to a close, it’s a good time to sit back, and go over the big stories on the Canadian casino and igaming fronts in 2023, getting a sense of what to look forward to in 2024. Here’s a sampling of what happened.

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National Ipsos poll in Canada shows fatigue with gambling advertising

In January, Ipsos polling and social-listening data found that nearly half of Canadians (48 percent) said they agreed (17 percent strongly, 31 percent somewhat) that the amount and volume of gambling advertising were too much and needed to be cut back.

According to the polling, 63 percent of Canadians agreed (21 percent strongly, 42 percent somewhat) that limits should be imposed on the amount and/or placement of advertising (support ranging from 59 percent in B.C. to 69 percent in Atlantic Canada).

First Nation “appalled” at news about new Toronto casino

In March, it was announced that the new $1 billion Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto would open its doors in the summer and that was met by opposition by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN), who saw the announcement as a further sign a “disrespect” toward them.

MSIFN owns Great Blue Heron Casino (opened in 1997) in nearby Port Perry, a casino that’s operated by Great Canadian Entertainment, the company that operates Woodbine Casino, being expanded into the new Toronto megacasino.

MSIFN said they saw what had been happening on the casino scene in the Greater Toronto Area as a gradual chipping away of their market share.

They decry a lack of attention paid to their facility, which MSIFN chief Kelly LaRocca says lacks the “vibrancy” of the other facilities, especially the $1 billion Toronto casino.

Coolbet shuts its doors

In March, Coolbet closed their Ontario casino and sportsbook, providing a support email for people who had remaining balances in their accounts after April.

Said an industry spokesperson, “This is a reflection of what kind of market has been created. The market is going to sort itself out. We’re also seeing new entrants coming in and others interested in entering the market. It’s not structural issues or regulatory issues as the reasons why people leave, it’s straight competition between product. That’s business.”

One-year anniversary for the regulated Ontario market

In early April, Ontario celebrated the one-year anniversary of the open, regulated, competitive market going live.

Canadian Gaming Association president & CEO Paul Burns commented, “The level of interest in the market is larger than I thought it was going to be. We had an idea of what the gray market was through some of the legacy operators, the Betways, Bet365s, the Pinnacles.

“But quite remarkable is the interest from others who want to get their feet wet in the North American market. It’s been great to see the interest that has come from smaller players, people who had unique ideas, wanting to try different types of product offerings, focusing on narrower segments of the marketplace. That’s the fantastic part about it.

“You’ve got a wide range of products. You’ve got a fair revenue share structure. You’ve got a strong regulatory regime that took and recognized some of the industry best practices being deployed across other jurisdictions in the world.”

iGaming Ontario executive director Martha Otton told an audience of industry folks at a Canadian Gaming Association event that the province booked $35.5 billion in total wagers over the market’s first year. That solidified Ontario as one of the North America’s largest igaming jurisdictions.

Over 40 submissions from industry stakeholders as AGCO reviews ad standards

In May, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario reported that they received approximately 40 submissions from industry stakeholders as they considered changes to the province’s Advertising Standards. The AGCO was considering a change to igaming Advertising Standards “to prohibit the use of athletes as well as celebrities that can reasonably be expected to appeal to children and youth from internet gambling advertising and marketing in Ontario” over concerns about the impact on children or vulnerable people.

In August, the AGCO announced changes to the Ad Standards to come into effect Feb. 28, 2024. Among those, advertising shall not “use active or retired athletes, who have an agreement or arrangement made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator or gaming-related supplier, in advertising and marketing except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices.”

SBC focuses Canadian Gaming Summit on Canadian gaming industry

The 26th edition of the Canadian Gaming Summit was held in Toronto in June and SBC, organizing it for the first time, pulled out all the stops to put a Canadian stamp on the event. More than 2,000 people attended the conference and trade show.

Schnarr named AGCO’S new CEO and registrar

It was announced in August that Dr. Karin Schnarr would step into the role of chief executive officer and registrar, replacing the outgoing Tom Mungham.

The AGCO had announced in March that Mungham was stepping down as CEO and registrar and that Mungham would stay in the position to help facilitate a smooth transition for his replacement.

Ontario rolls along

In October, the regulated Ontario igaming market continued to show growth, according to a Q2 FY 2023-24 (July 1 through September 30) market-performance report released by iGaming Ontario.

Ontario saw $14.2 billion in total wagers in Q2 (not including promotional wagers or bonuses). That was up from $14 billion in Q1 (April 1 to June 30, 2023).

Ontario saw $540 million in total gaming revenue in Q2, down from $545 million in Q1. Total gaming revenue comprises total cash wagers, including rake, tournament, and other fees, minus player winnings derived from cash wagers. That number doesn’t take into account operating costs or other liabilities.

As of October, 47 operators were licensed in Ontario and and operating 71 gaming websites. In Q1, the numbers were 46 and 71, respectively.

The Q3 results are due out soon.

New regulatory regime for Quebec?

In November, a Mainstreet Research survey of 1,101 Quebecers undertaken by the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition revealed that the 72% of Québec players who use Loto-Québec’s Espace Jeux platform do so exclusively to buy lottery tickets. When excluding Quebec players who use the Loto Québec Espace Jeux space to only buy lottery tickets, the survey found that 26.6 percent of players visit the site to play online games and for sports betting.

The coalition is composed of Betway, Bet99, DraftKings, Entain, Flutter, Games Global, and Rush Street Interactive, partnering with Apricot Investments, and is committed to working with the Quebec government and local stakeholders to develop a new regulatory framework for the province, to break up the Loto Québec monopoly.

Kindred pulls Unibet out of North America

Kindred Group announced in November that it was pulling their Unibet brand from North America as part of an overall strategic review that included cost-saving initiatives for the company. The withdrawal is expected to be completed by the end of Q2 2024.

Igaming Ontario sets up request for proposals for self-exclusion

In December, iGaming Ontario, the subsidiary of the AGCO that conducts and manages internet gaming in the province, announced they are requesting proposals in early 2024 for a “centralized self-exclusion solution that will enable a player to self-exclude from all Ontario regulated igaming operators in a single registration process,” according to a statement. Those companies interested are asked to register on iGaming Ontario’s MERX platform in early 2024 to review the RFP and participate in the bidding process.

Manitoba announces plans to expand gambling sector

In December, the new NDP government in Manitoba announced plans to expand gambling to help address the province’s deficit. A new board at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries was put in place and has a new mandate to review the province’s approach to online gaming. Currently, the only regulated online gaming platform in the province is PlayNow.com.