Not all online gambling in Canada is created equal.
That’s the message that a new pan-Canadian coalition of provincial lottery corporations wants to make certain Canadians understand. The partnership comes as Canada sees a spike in national gambling advertising, despite non-provincial sites being illegal in most provinces.
“Provincially regulated gaming corporations across Canada are just wanting to make sure people are aware,” Steve Lautischer, executive vice-president of business development for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, told PlayCanada.
“There are a number of illegal gambling websites operating in Canada and advertising across Canada, and we’re really concerned… We’re trying to work with federal agencies to try and curtail that activity.”
Coalition draws attention to illegal online gambling in Canada
For its part, AGLC is a founding member of the alliance along with British Columbia Lottery Corp., Atlantic Lotto, Loto-Québec and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
“Not everything that they (Canadians) see advertised or made available to Canadians is necessarily a legal online gambling website,” cautioned Lautischer.
“I think probably the general public is not well aware of the fact there are illegal operators out there. So we want to make people aware.”
The coalition also hopes to affect rules around gambling advertising to protect Canadians better, added Lautisher.
“From an advertising standpoint, we’re working towards talking to different federal regulators or entities that manage what is rightfully advertised on our airwaves relative to legal offerings versus illegal… we have a common concern and (now) we have a common effort to try and eradicate it.”
Illegal online gambling in Canada is worth billions
While the actual size of the illegal Canada online casinos and sportsbooks market is unknown, there’s plenty of speculation.
In the run-up to the passing of Bill C-218, which gave provinces the right to offer single-event bets, proponents often quoted a $14 billion price tag.
That number comes from the Canadian Gaming Association and includes $10b in black-market bets and $4b spent offshore on grey market sites.
That’s in contrast to a seemingly paltry $500 million gambled legally on provincially run sites.
Those numbers are in line with research by H2 Gambling Capital, which estimates this year, Canada online gambling will be worth $3.8b. By 2026 that number could grow to $6.2b annually.
It’s necessary to note that H2, which provides gambling-related market intelligence, shies away from estimating black market value. But whatever the size of the unregulated market is, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s substantial.
But what’s not uncertain (and a point the coalition highlights) is the legal reality of online gambling in Canada.
“I’ll be blunt. The Criminal Code is really clear [about] who has the right or the authority to offer gambling in the country. If you’re not a provincial gaming authority, or you don’t have a contract with the provincial gaming authority to conduct and manage, it is by fact then an illegal offering.”
Alberta’s simple math
Currently, AGLC does not have a dollar amount attached to the size of Alberta’s illegal online gambling market. They do have an idea of the total market size, however.
“We estimated in Alberta, somewhere between four and 500 million is being spent online annually by Albertans,” said Lauuisher.
And, when AGLC releases its annual report this fall, it will offer a look into the money Albertans spend on regulated and unregulated sites.
“That, in some ways, will become a bit of an emphatic, at least for Alberta, snapshot as to how much is legal and how much is illegal. It’s simple math, right?”
Anecdotally, Albertans have no shortage of responses when asked to identify available gambling brands, said Lautisher. And the answers also seem to show the average Albertan (and likely average Canadian) doesn’t understand the difference between provincial and private.
“Even with family and friends. Even though they know what I do for a living, they have no clue,” he said.
“Just saying this in advance,” he added of AGLC’s take. “We aren’t half the market. It’s not that. We are less than half.”
If true, there’s certainly a lot of money, and tax dollars, to recapture.
Lottery coalition offers united front
That’s likely true from coast to coast.
With many Canadians unaware provincial gaming sites are the sole legal option, players wind up spending on illegal online gambling sites.
Except for in Ontario, that is.
But that’s not to say illegal gambling is no longer happening, just that players have more choice.
But, the coalition isn’t about getting all provinces doing things the same. It’s about presenting a united front against the illegal, unregulated industry.
Every province does it a little bit different,” said Lautisher. “That’s just the way it is and that that makes sense.”
But when it comes to enforcement, he said, the provinces don’t have the licence to shut other operators down. Aside from that, the coalition would be happy to see gambling advertisements for illegal sites come to an end.
“An entity may have the commercial agreement or licence to sell their online gambling product in the province of Ontario,” said Lautisher.
But, some of those companies operating legal online casinos and sportsbooks in Ontario also serve ads to players from outside the big-money province. And they continue to welcome Canadian players from regions without an open or regulated market.
However, this “isn’t a criticism of Ontario or their solution,” said Lautisher.
“We’re bringing awareness to the fact that other authorities in the country may be able to take more specific action to manage this.”
AGLC keen to see Ontario online gambling revenues
In fact, AGLC is watching Ontario online casinos and sportsbooks closely and is keen to see official revenue numbers. (Us too, AGLC, Us, too).
“We saw the PointsBet release. I think it was last week, which was, hey, it was something,” Lautisher said. “I am sort of scratching my head as to what’s taking so long, but hey, I’ve been there, too. So who knows? But (we’re) anxious to see and watching very closely.”
As for Ontario’s conspicuous absence from the coalition’s membership, it’s not as deep as it might seem.
“Ontario is well aware of us,” Lautisher said. “They obviously have their handsful right now just managing their new offerings to the marketplace… there’s no ill repute or anything.
It’s a similar situation for Saskatchewan, he said.
“Saskatchewan is the last province to provide an online regulated online gambling solution. I don’t want to speak for them… but you can certainly do some research to see they’re getting into position to launch.”
“Their hands are full, if you will, getting ready.”
Alberta online casino and sports betting continues to evolve
Alberta is getting ready, too.
The province first launched its Alberta online casino and sports betting portal, PlayAlberta.ca, in the fall of 2020.
Initially, the site offered casino games, e-scratch cards, and some virtual table games.
Since, the site has slowly augmented its offering to include lottery, live dealers and sports betting. And last year, the Western Canada Lottery Corp, a retail lottery arm servicing Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, launched single-event wagering.
“Our goal is to stand up a retail sports offering at our 28 existing casinos and racing entertainment centres in the province,” said Lautisher. “Stand up a couple of different sports wagering offerings at the retail sites of our casinos. And that will include a mobile extension.”
AGLC hopes these moves will also help take a bite out of the illegal market. In general, the lottery believes that people would choose to be safe. And that they’re interested in making sure their tax dollars make an impact on Alberta soil.
“Our position remains that we’ll continue to look for other opportunities for both sports wagering and igaming in the province of Alberta from a regulated perspective. That was just our starting position.“