Ontario Online Casino Players Love Familiarity, Participatory Games Says BetRivers Exec

Written By Dave Briggs on August 4, 2022

Ontario online casino customers of the BetRivers betting app are attracted to playing games they have encountered in one of the province’s 29 bricks-and-mortar casinos.

That can be both a good and bad business trend according to Bruce Caughill, managing director, Canada for Rush Street Interactive, the operator of BetRivers.ca

“It’s important to point out that’s a two-way street. There’s a lot of information out there that says somebody who might be an online player will become familiar online with games like blackjack and lightning roulette and then have more of a propensity to participate at a land-based casino because the intimidation factor gets reduced a little bit and we can learn a bit online I think that’s part of it.”

Ontario online casino gamblers like immersive games

As the open Ontario online casino market reaches the four-month mark, Bruce Caughill, managing director, Canada for Rush Street Interactive, the operator of BetRivers.ca, says Ontarians crave participatory action.

Caughill (above) spoke to PlayCanada this week. The conversation came after BetRivers released some of the trends it is seeing in an Ontario gaming market. Today marks the four-month mark of the open Ontario online sports and casino market. The province is already home to 23 live gaming operators with many more on the way.

One of the key findings of the BetRivers report was: “Many of the most popular games in Ontario are land-based games that players are familiar with from brick-and-mortar casinos, such as Cleopatra, Cash Machine, Capital Gains, 88 Fortunes and China Shores.”

Caughill added that BetRivers has found Ontario gamblers have “pretty strong interest” in “game show style games” that are “content driven and participatory.” He said:

“I just think that’s a really interesting development. And, you know, I’m not sure if people that are conversant in the industry truly know how important those participatory type games or bets are.”

Live in-game betting more popular in Ontario than the US

Caughill said that trend holds true with BetRivers’ findings for its sportsbook. In-game and live betting have proven very popular in Ontario. The report said: live betting drives more handle than pre-match betting, both in terms of player participation and average bet size.

“I think, generally, live betting is going to be such an important part of this,” Caughill said. “Gone are the traditional days of just pre-match betting and that’s it. There’s obviously a huge end game component that people are really interested in.

In fact, BetRivers has found that live betting “is more popular in Ontario than the US accounting for 61% of handle.” Caughill said:

“It’s interesting to see the differential in the live versus pre-match in the US and Canada. It’ll be interesting to see whether that differential is just an anomaly or whether there’s something more to that.”

BetRivers reported that baseball and soccer have seen the majority of live betting handle activity. But that could be a function of the time of year with the NFL, NHL and NBA all dormant for their off-seasons.

No shock: hockey betting is huge in Ontario

Looking at the handle breakdown BetRivers released, one thing is clear: hockey is huge with Ontario bettors compared to their US counterparts.

In Ontario, 10.5% of the BetRivers sportsbook’s handle in the first four months of the open betting market came from bets on the NHL. In the US, 7% of the operator’s handle comes from NHL wagers.

“It’s maybe not so much interesting as it is confirming,” Caughill said. “When you talk about the hockey activity here in this province, and how different it is than in the US, it’s just such a clear cultural difference.

“You look at the total number of bets and hockey’s huge. And basketball, too.”

Bet Rivers Total Handle — Ontario vs. US


For now, baseball and Blue Jays betting is king

BetRivers reported that for the first four months of Ontario’s online betting market:

  • The MLB was the most popular sport, producing 30% of total handle. Tennis and basketball were second and third, respectively.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays came out on top as the most popular team to bet on overall.

Is that because the province’s gaming launch game at the start of the baseball season? Or is it because the sport is really popular for Ontario gamblers?

“I think it’s a bit of both,” Caughill said. “The MLB is obviously one of the major sports offerings… An April launch obviously saw the tail end of some seasons and the beginning of others. So yeah, I think the focus on baseball… in the trend time… is driven somewhat by seasonality.”

The real money is in casinos

Yet, the real money is to be made with casino betting. Many operators hope to use sports betting to funnel customers over to their online casinos. At BetRivers, Caughill said, “that’s certainly part of the goal.”

Is the company seeing a reasonable conversion rate? He said it’s too early to say with any certainty.

As for dealing with 22 competitors — with more coming — Caughill said BetRivers is just focusing on its own product, not the competition.

Given that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has strict rules banning the advertisement of bonuses, inducements or credits, Caughill said he hopes a product-first focus is a winning long-term strategy in Ontario.

“It has really pushed operators to focus on advertising their content. And we’re really excited about that because we’ve got some great content,” he said.

“This is a game of acquisition and then retention. And retention is product, if you include in product customer experience and customer service.”

Ontario is big enough to support both online and physical casinos

And product is a critical part of the operation. This is especially true if one considers Caughill’s earlier concern. Online operators may be helping train gamblers to bet in physical casinos.

That would run counter to a pre-launch Great Canadian Gaming Corp. report that suggested online operators would steal customers from physical casinos in the province.

“I don’t really subscribe to that Great Canadian (view),” Caughill said. “I came from the bricks-and-mortar world as well with 20 years at the Fallsview Casino. And I see this as an opportunity for those land-based operations to access a different demographic as it relates to the sports bettor for sure. And, the ability to tie into the iGaming operations and have those iGaming operations as an extension of their land-based offering. We don’t have we don’t have the amenities they have and they can utilize them to their benefit for sure.”

Meaning, there is enough money in Canada’s most populous province to go around to those in Ontario’s hype-competitive gambling business if you have a strong product and don’t ignore the trends.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Canada with emphasis on the casino, sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gaming industries in Canada and Michigan.

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