Will Quebec go with a competitive, private, igaming model?

December 19, 2023 2:51 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
December 19, 2023 2:51 PM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

You might get some interesting betting action on the Canadian province most likely to follow in Ontario’s footsteps and implement an open, competitive, regulated, igaming market.

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Alberta seems like a strong candidate, with Conservative Premier Danielle Smith giving the green light for staff to look into generating more revenue from the liquor, cannabis, and gaming industries in the province, as Gaming News Canada mentioned this morning.

A Conservative government with a majority? Alberta is a good bet. Don’t sleep on Quebec, though.

Leading private operators certainly aren’t. The Quebec Online Gaming Coalition, composed of Betway, Bet99, DraftKings, Entain, Flutter, Games Global, and Rush Street Interactive, partnering with Apricot Investments, is committed to working with the Quebec government and local stakeholders to develop a new regulatory framework for the province and break up the monopoly currently held by Loto-Québec.

The big industry players met with Quebec’s Finance Ministry over the summer and have been in regular contact with updates on the market, including surveys. In late November, the coalition released a survey of 1,101 Quebecers conducted by Mainstreet Research, which 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 Espace Jeux to only buy lottery tickets, the survey found that just 26.6% of players visit the site to play online games and bet sports.

Earlier this month, the coalition announced they were partnering with GeoComply, which provides fraud-prevention and cybersecurity solutions that detect location fraud and help verify a user’s true digital identity, to help paint a clearer picture of Quebecers’ playing habits.

CDC Gaming Reports spoke with Quebec Online Gaming Coalition spokesperson Nathalie Bergeron about what’s next for the organization heading into 2024.

CDC: What’s been some of the feedback to the Mainstreet Research study from people in the industry?

NB: “From people in the industry and our members, not a lot of surprise, but they’re happy that finally we’re having a more realistic portrait of this situation in the field. It was important that we gave a clearer picture of what’s happening in Quebec, because it completely contradicts Loto-Québec’s take on the situation. Our members knew what was happening (in the market), but we needed an independent party to do that for us, so we could bring that to the forefront and really show what was happening in a credible manner.”

CDC: Are you hearing anything from bettors?

NB: “It’s very interesting. The people I know who partake in these activities say it’s about time. No one is surprised. People didn’t realize how widespread the use of private operators’ platforms was. People are realizing the importance to act based on those numbers.”

CDC: Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has talked about the positive impact the new regulatory regime in Ontario has had on their business. What are your thoughts on that?

NB: “I find it fantastic that OLG has found this to all be beneficial. We can do the same thing here in Quebec. If you look at any competitive market, competition is good, because it drives innovation and the winners are the end users.”

CDC: Are you leaning toward the Ontario model or just a general, open, regulatory model for the Quebec market?

NB: “I think it’s important to take into consideration what would work best for Quebec. That’s why we need to have dialogue with the Quebec government and with key stakeholders in terms of what would work best for the players here. The Ontario market is easy to look at, because it’s close and similar, but we wouldn’t anticipate the Quebec government implementing the Ontario model. But Ontario has done so well that we can’t keep sitting around twirling our thumbs. Our neighbors have taken leadership on this … an independent body that would supervise the entire industry. Our Quebec government has been comparing itself to Ontario in a number of files over the past few years … This is a case where they really should look at what Ontario is doing and ask themselves why it wouldn’t work for us. The monopoly doesn’t work anymore. The longer we take to realize that, the longer our players will not be protected sufficiently.”

CDC: What are the next moves for the coalition? How do you keep pushing this ball forward?

NB: “We’re going to keep putting those numbers (in the study) forward. It’s a conversation that needs to continue happening. GeoComply will provide us with hard data on the Quebec market that will continue to fuel our messaging and discussions with key stakeholders. We will continue to have discussions with key stakeholders and different members of government and the opposition, experts and people in the industry, get their feedback and opinion, and continue to educate people. I don’t think people fully understand the advances that were made with the implementation of the system in Ontario.”

CDC: Will you be adding members to the coalition (other private operators)?

NB: “Discussions are happening. Nothing to announce at the moment, but we’re always open to welcoming new members. I think the stronger voices the better.”

CDC: Was there anything in that Mainstreet Research study that surprised you?

NB: “The proportion of users who only go to Espace Jeux to purchase lotto tickets, which makes it a glorified validator in your living room, that’s replaced the corner-store validator. That one blew my mind. We have to take into consideration that people who are buying lotto tickets and people who are playing casinos games and placing bets are two different audiences.”

Renaud Dugas, spokesperson from Loto Québec, said about the coalition study on the Quebec market, “Our position hasn’t changed. Some members of the coalition formed to promote responsible gaming and a new regulatory framework in Québec are violating Canada’s Criminal Code by illegally offering games to Québec residents, which raises serious doubts and questions about their actual intentions. In Québec, the rules could not be clearer: If it’s not Loto-Québec, it’s not legal. Loto-Québec is the only organization that can offer a 100% legal online casino and sports betting website in the province.

And Quebec’s Finance Ministry office said, “Loto-Québec is the only legal online gaming operator in Quebec. Responsible gaming is a priority.”