Why Basketball Is #1 In Ontario’s Sports Betting Market; Can Football Catch Up?

Written By C.J. Pierre on May 2, 2023

We are a little over one year in on legal sports betting in Ontario. So far, so good. According to iGaming Ontario, the new online gambling market has brought in around $35.6 billion in total wagers and approximately $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue.

The data from iGaming Ontario also gives us a glimpse at what sports people in Ontario are betting on the most. After year one, basketball is king.

Basketball was the most popular sport to bet on, with 28% of betting wagers. That was followed by soccer at 15%, football at 14%, hockey at 9% and baseball at 8%.

In the United States, football is by far the most bet on sport. So to see it behind both basketball and soccer is a little surprising. PlayCanada spoke with some experts on why basketball seems to be the most popular sport in the Ontario sports betting market and if football and hockey will eventually climb near the top of the rankings.

Logical reasons for basketball being #1

Again, the mere mention of people betting on basketball more than football might seem a bit jarring to some. However, if you look at the landscape of the Ontario sports betting scene, it makes sense.

Legal sports betting in Ontario launched on April 4, 2022. That was the same day as the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament championship game. The first chance for many Canadian sports fans to bet on sports came on the same day as college basketball’s title game. The NBA playoffs shortly followed that.

Meanwhile, bettors had to wait another five months before they could bet on NFL regular season games. Also, in the middle of the NFL season, we had the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the biggest soccer tournament in the world. And on top of that, Canada had a team in the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Basketball is a rapidly growing sport in Canada. The recent success of the Toronto Raptors has helped generate a new crop of basketball fans in Ontario. Without a local NFL team to root for, basketball betting in the province has a significant advantage right out of the gate. Add to the fact that there has been a larger volume of basketball betting opportunities for Canadians so far; it stands to reason that basketball would see a significant amount of wagers.

Experts say basketball topping betting market could be a trend

While the idea of basketball topping football in the sports betting market would be wild in the United States, folks say it could become a trend in Canada going forward.

Nic Sulsky is the chief commercial officer for PointsBet Canada. He says they’ve seen similar data on their sportsbooks. However, he adds that the timing of when legal sports betting launched in Ontario has played a large factor.

“When you look at the basketball, we got a full NBA playoffs, plus most of the following season,” said Sulsky. “Then we got March Madness, so it makes sense that basketball would be on top. Then with football, we only got the one NFL season.”

Sulsky also mentioned that several Canadian sports fans tend to follow Canadian athletes that make it to the pros. Currently, there are more high-profile Canadian players in the NBA than in the NFL.

“You look at Andrew Wiggins, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, who are all Canadian. These are all guys that are on successful teams that fans in Canada want to follow and support,” said Sulsky.

Garnet Barnsdale is an Ontario native who enjoys placing a few bets for fun. As someone that bets as a hobby, he said basketball simply has more betting options available than any of the other sports.

“With basketball, you have a point spread that has more movement on it. There are more opportunities in basketball for live movement,” said Barnsdale. “I think there is more interest in prop-betting basketball. More bets are being offered in basketball from what I can see.”

Barnsdale also says that basketball might appeal to casual bettors who feel like their fandom can give them an edge.

“It is probably something they feel that they can beat if they follow certain players or teams closely,” said Barnsdale. “A guy like Brandon Ingram had a sudden increase in getting rebounds. So for six or seven games in a row, I rode it and cashed several times in a row.”

Barnsdale also says basketball’s popularity in Canada is a factor in the number of people betting on it. However, he feels football will eventually close the gap. He says hockey could struggle because there doesn’t seem to be a large interest in betting on hockey based on what he’s seen.

Not all sportsbooks are seeing the same data

There are more than 30 legal online sports betting sites in Ontario. So it stands to reason that they will not all show basketball as the number one bet on sport.

For example, theScore Bet released data following its first year in Ontario. Their info shows a much more even playing field than the overall numbers shared by iGaming Ontario.

According to theScore Bet, the player who saw the most bets placed on them during the first year of sports betting in Ontario was Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, four of the top five are hockey players.

theScore Bet’s Top 5 most bet on players in Ontario’s 1st year

  1. Auston Matthews (NHL)
  2. Mitch Marner (NHL)
  3. William Nylander (NHL)
  4. Josh Allen (NFL)
  5. Connor McDavid (NHL)

The top three are all stars on the Maple Leafs. Then you have Josh Allen, the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, the most popular football team in Canada. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers rounds out the top 5.

The data gets even more head-scratching when you look at the most bet on teams on theScore Bet.

theScore Bet’s Top 5 most bet on teams in Ontario’s 1st year

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Toronto Maple Leafs
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers
  5. Colorado Avalanche

Three of the top five teams are baseball teams. We haven’t even mentioned the Raptors or any basketball players, yet. When you look at the top five games bet on through theScore Bet, the number one game was Super Bowl LVII, and the second was Canada’s World Cup match against Belgium. The next three were all NFL playoff games.

Again, theScore Bet is only one of over 30 sports betting options in Ontario. So going off their data alone will not give you a full grasp of the market. However, it does show that there is a lot of betting interest in sports like football, hockey and baseball in Canada. Could basketball remain number one after Year 2 of sports betting in Ontario? The answer could be yes. But there is a good chance that football and hockey will close that gap as the market matures.

Photo by José Luis Villegas / AP Photo
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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Canada. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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