SBC Barcelona: Could Ontario provide a regulatory blueprint for new markets?

September 23, 2022 3:23 PM
Updated: September 28, 2022 12:12 PM

SBC Barcelona: Could Ontario provide a regulatory blueprint for new markets?

  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart
September 23, 2022 3:23 PM
Updated: September 28, 2022 12:12 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart
  • Ontario
  • From the Floor
  • Sports Betting

Canada’s newly regulated market in the province of Ontario has been described as the “absolutely perfect gilt-edged” sports-betting market by Fitzdares CEO William Woodhams.

Speaking on the “Going Online In Ontario – North America’s 5th Largest Market” panel at the SBC Barcelona Summit on Thursday afternoon, an animated Woodhams could not have been more positive about the prospects in Ontario.

Woodhams highlighted that 60 percent of the Canadian market is in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario’s main city, within 30 kilometres of the center of town. “They bet a lot. Canadians are rich. They’re really rich. They’re cool and they’re rich”, Woodhams enthused.

Ontario launched regulated betting in April this year, going live with 13 regulated sites on day one, which rose to around 30 in the first three months.

The province recorded handle of just over $4 billion in the first quarter and around $162 million in revenue.

Panel moderator and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association Paul Burns acknowledged this had fallen short of some commentators’ expectations, but said this was mainly due to unfair comparisons to revenues being generated in more established American jurisdictions.

The Ontario regulator has a transition period in place until the end of October, in order to enable legacy grey-market operators time to transition to the regulated market. The panellists were unanimous that this was a significant boost to channelisation in the market.

Commenting on the approach taken by the Ontario regulator, Entain SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka said: “It’s a testament to their hard work that in the first quarter, they brought in some 30 sites and 17 operators, and maybe more are coming. So it’s been, from that perspective, a roaring success, in my view.”

Both Lycka and Woodham praised the openness of the regulator in its cooperation with licensees and said it had contributed to a market with a strong chance of remaining viable after the transition period.

An area that remains open for discussion with the regulator is the level of advertising the market may allow in future.

Lycka believes Ontario regulators might have wished to avoid the “U.S.-like craziness, where lunatic levels of so-called free bets” were allowed. But he called for “more sensible” rules, whereby operators may not be allowed to use bonuses and free bets, but could use other forms of inducements, such as enhanced odds. “Consult with the industry and figure out a middle ground”, he suggested.

Rootz CMO Melanie Hainzer highlighted the issue for affiliates operating across Canada. “I think it’s very challenging for affiliates right now, as some sites out there have one section where there’s still all the bonuses and inducements and then they have an Ontario section where they had to remove everything.”

She said the struggle for affiliates until the end of the transition period is that they’re losing traffic if they’re compliant, as unlicensed rivals are still offering inducements.

Lycka argued that the ideal regulatory move in terms of affiliates would be to have a list of permitted affiliates from which licensed operators were allowed to choose, creating a level playing field.

“Hopefully, it would be a big group, it would be a growing group. But also in the spirit of good governance, good regulation, and responsible gambling, it would keep it in one tightly controlled form. Which in my view is always preferable”, he said.