Where does gambling in Alberta go from here?

November 17, 2022 4:47 PM

Where does gambling in Alberta go from here?

Photo: Shutterstock
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
November 17, 2022 4:47 PM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

Alberta is a current big unknown on the Canadian digital-gaming scene, as the province’s new government leaders figure out their strategy.

Unlike Ontario, which opened up its market to private operators (the introduction of Coolbet this week to the market brings the total number of live, regulated, digital-gaming operators to 35), Alberta has opted for a more “controlled” approach, as one industry source described it.

The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission announced last December that it was going to allow two private operators to run sports betting at major sports venues in the province. There would also be a mobile component. The regulator set up a Request for Proposals process and the deadline for that has been extended several times in 2022. The original target was to have all this up and running by this fall.

But no announcements have been made as yet.

“AGLC continues to work through the RFP process and will announce details once there are updates,” AGLC spokesperson Jacqualine Ladouceur told CDC Gaming Reports. “As the RFP and subsequent vetting process are still ongoing, we’re unable to share any information at this time.”

Canadian Gaming Association president and CEO Paul Burns said in October that things would be delayed until the new government was sworn in. Premier Danielle Smith unveiled her first cabinet on Oct. 21. “Then we can get more of an understanding of what the government policy priorities will be,” Burns said.

Will that feature a swing back to the model embraced by Ontario?

The delay is unfortunate, since the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers seasons are now in full swing. And on the CFL front, Calgary lost to B.C. in the Western Semi-Final on Nov. 6, which would have generated a lot of betting action.

Ontario’s successful template is having an impact across the country, Burns added.

“Everyone is learning from Ontario,” he said. “What’s clear is that the jurisdictions don’t want the gray market to continue. Every province has to figure out what’s best for their jurisdiction. Everyone has a different collection of stakeholders and different needs within their market. What we want the provinces to do is begin a dialogue with the industry, just like Ontario did. Listen, talk to everybody, determine from the stakeholders within the gaming business, the land-based casino operators, online operators, suppliers, and everybody in the market, what their priorities are. It’s very important that everybody be consulted, so they can learn.”

Alberta bettors currently have PlayAlberta as the only legal online sportsbook. No other Canadian province or territory has expressed interest in opening up their jurisdictions to private operators like Ontario has.

PointsBet Canada is one of the private operators looking at Alberta, Canada’s fourth most populous province, a place where bettors were spending millions of dollars on offshore gaming sites before single-game sports betting in Canada was legalized in 2021.

Those who run PointsBet Canada point to the province’s passionate fanbase, business-friendly environment, competitive tax rates, and a diverse workforce as reasons why they’re exploring Alberta.

“Our mission since the very beginning has been to build a Canadian sportsbook, with Canadian employees, for the Canadian market,” PointsBet Canada chief executive officer Scott Vanderwel said last February. “We believe that Alberta has the talent and highly skilled workforce that can help us be at the forefront of igaming in Canada. In addition to the economic growth created by an igaming workforce, Alberta has an even greater economic opportunity should it choose to pursue a regulated and competitive igaming market in the province. Doing so would create a level playing field in a responsible and licensed gaming market for Alberta’s sports fans.”

Said Invest Alberta CEO Rick Christiaanse, in February (Invest Alberta works with investors to start up or scale up in the province), “Alberta’s competitive business environment, talent pipeline, and unique infrastructure continue to elevate the province as a growing global tech hub. Our recent MOU with PointsBet Canada will support the company on its investment journey as PointsBet looks to Alberta as a potential destination for high-impact investment.”

Alberta is the one market, other than Ontario, to really keep an eye on through the end of 2022.