Lions And Fountains And Wayne, Oh My! BetMGM Hopes US Momentum Continues To Ontario In ’22

Written By Robyn McNeil on January 24, 2022 - Last Updated on April 13, 2023
BetMGM: MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino sign

The King of Sportsbooks, and a major player in the US internet gaming market, is coming to Ontario.

BetMGM received a key approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to join fully licensed operators in the province. The registration was issued on March 21 and the company now has to sign a commercial agreement with iGaming Ontario.

Earlier this year, CEO Adam Greenblatt confirmed BetMGM’s plans to enter Canada. In the company’s earnings call on Jan. 19, he indicated BetMGM and Bwin could coexist in the Ontario online gambling market.

“What we see, even in the US, where we have multiple brands, both can thrive,” Greenblatt said. “The brands will be operated by different, independent teams. So, we fully see that as incremental to value.”

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Bwin is a sports betting brand owned by BetMGM’s co-owner, Entain. Currently, Bwin offers only free-to-play games in the Canadian market.

But, while business is booming for the company south of the border, BetMGM’s casino brand doesn’t carry the same weight in Canada. Getting the brand to translate here will be a challenge for one of the most recognized global casino brands.

Building name recognition a new challenge for BetMGM

In Michigan, downtown casino MGM Grand Detroit is smack in the middle of the state’s largest city.

BetMGM Online Casino is dominating the internet gaming market in Michigan, more than doubling any competitor in first-year revenue. BetMGM Casino also offers the most casino games.

On this side of the border, name recognition is more likely for Caesars. Located across the border from Detroit, Caesars Windsor is one of Ontario’s better-known casinos.

So, how will BetMGM fare in Ontario and the Canadian market? We reached out to BetMGM to ask about its Canadian plans, but a spokesperson said it’s too early to comment.

But follow along as PlayCanada considers what we can expect when BetMGM makes its move north.

Online casino leader trains eye on the Great White North

2021 was a good year for BetMGM.

The operator firmly established itself as the leader in its active online casino markets, with an average 30% business share over the last months of 2021, according to their own publicly released numbers. Currently, BetMGM is live with its online casino in four states.

When it comes to sports betting, BetMGM holds the number two spot and a 24% share across 19 jurisdictions for the same period, the company says.

Looking to 2022, BetMGM expects continued growth, buoyed by investments in additional markets, including Illinois, Puerto Rico and Ontario. Later this year, the company anticipates launching its online sports betting and casino operations on this side of the border.

However, despite its apparent success, BetMGM says it doesn’t expect to turn a profit until at least 2023.

To get there, the brand will lean on a marketing strategy bolstered by its MGM Resorts loyalty program. They also plan to emphasize customer service and responsible gaming to gain an edge.

It’s all about who you know (and who knows you)

Maybe it’s just me, but any time I see anything MGM-related my first thoughts turn to Leo, the iconic cinematic lion.

These days there’s no business connection between MGM Studios and BetMGM, but Leo’s rolling roar is still my first association with the brand. Even the logos for BetMGM and MGM Resorts International harken back to the latter’s former relationship with the film studio.

Whether or not that association will do BetMGM any favours with Canadians is still unknown. In my opinion, however, a substantial advantage is unlikely.

Otherwise, BetMGM lacks top-of-mind brand recognition in Canada without a land-based casino like MGM Grand Detroit. However, since online casinos bring in the lion’s share of gambling revenue, BetMGM’s lack of physical presence may not impact the brand’s revenue materially.

This is especially true if the company can capitalize on the recent success of its digital presence in the US.

The real money for operators comes from online casinos

While we hear a lot about sports betting, online casinos are where the real money gets made. Seriously, it’s true.

If we stick with the Michigan comparison, the state launched its online market on Jan. 22, 2021.

In just under a year, online casinos in Michigan made over US$1 billion in revenue and more than $200 million in state tax. During the same time frame, online sports betting brought in a more modest $292 million in revenue and $7.3 million in taxes.

And if we take a broader view, what we find is much the same.

According to the American Gaming Association, brick-and-mortar casino gaming in the US garnered $41.08 billion between January and November of 2021. That’s a 6.4% increase over the $38.62 billion earned during the same stretch in 2019. And that’s with a global pandemic wreaking havoc in the background.

Numbers like this just go to show commercial casinos can survive (and even thrive) alongside online casinos and sports betting.

So, yes, much of the recent hype (and marketing push) is tied to sports betting. But, part of the player-acquisition strategy is enticing sportsbook customers to sign up for online casinos.

A celebrity, pro-athlete and influencer walk into a bar

Anyone in the US with access to a screen has certainly seen Jamie Foxx strutting through the Belaggio fountains. “Put some skin in the game,” says Foxx as water sprays behind him.

“Now you’re in the ring with the King of Sportsbooks.”

The Foxx ad is one example of the ads BetMGM is blanketing the US landscape with, particularly in legalized states.

And BetMGM Sportsbook‘s recent partnership with Canadian hockey icon, Wayne Gretzky, hints at a desire to connect with Canadians.

In the first promo, Gretzky walks through the same Vegas fountains.

“With every tap, a new legend is born,” says the great one as fountains freeze into ice sculptures behind him. “Because every bet with MGM has the potential for greatness.”

Whether or not the ice sculptures are a nod to Canada’s frozen tundra, it’s a safe bet to expect more ads with Canadian flavour as Ontario moves closer to launch. It will be interesting to see which personalities BetMGM partners with to help woo Canadians.

When opportunity knocks, BetMGM answers

With a successful 2021 in the rearview, BetMGM is looking toward future opportunities.

It’s no surprise then that Ontario, touted as North America’s fifth-largest online gambling market, is the next for BetMGM to enter.

The long-time casino operator has an impressive selection of games that will likely interest Ontario players. BetMGM also has back-end partnerships and industry relationships that could be of benefit in Canada and new US markets.

So, while we have to wait for BetMGM to enter into a commercial agreement with iGO, we can be sure of one thing.

BetMGM has the potential for greatness. Just how that potential plays out in Ontario remains to be seen.

Photo by Shutterstock/Ken Wolter
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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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