For Their Eyes Only: Geofencing Ensures Only Players In Ontario Will Be Betting

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on March 15, 2022 - Last Updated on June 12, 2024
A close up of a decorative cast iron wrought fence with artistic forging to signify geofencing

Ontario’s expanded online casino and sports betting industry launches in less than three weeks. When it does, provincial bettors will have a nearly unlimited choice of available brands—an embarrassment of riches, really.

So far, PointsBet, theScore Bet, 888, BetRivers, Rivalry, WSOP, LottoGo and Unibet all have approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. More licensing announcements will surely follow in the coming days as giants like DraftKings, BetMGM and Bet365 join the fray.

In fact, anyone outside of Ontario still beholden to lottery monopolies might be feeling more than a bit envious (sorry, guys).

But, feeling ‘a way’ about things doesn’t mean we can do anything about them. Of course, you can try, but the odds are stacked against those who attempt to skirt the rules. Because thanks to Know Your Customer protocols and geolocation technology, those beyond Ontario’s borders will find their access to the market blocked.

So, just what is geolocation anyway?

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Before we dive into geofencing technology, let’s touch on KYC.

(And even before that, a tip: For geolocation to work, make sure location services are enabled on your device or browser.)

Know Your Customer is a practice used by companies to verify the identity of customers and ensure compliance with legal requirements and regulations. While KYC protocols are standard in financial industries, they’re also useful for real estate, insurance, even the sale of high-end goods.

Indeed, a robust KYC practice helps ensure your customer is who they claim to be when it comes to online gambling. A certainty particularly important when details like age and location are integral to whether an operator can serve a customer at all. But we’ll dig deeper into KYC in a future piece. Today is about geolocation.

Where’s Waldo? Thanks to geolocation, Google knows

Essentially, geolocation allows us to find a needle in a haystack—as long as that needle is connected to the internet.

By using geolocation technology, we can track the geographical location of any online electronic device. While the methods used can differ, most geolocation providers use a combination of IP addresses and global positioning systems to track a device’s whereabouts. Both your mobile and desktop use geolocation.

A good example of how geolocation works is Apple’s “find my phone” feature. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Say you’re out of town and looking to indulge in some table gaming at a local casino. Just type ‘casinos near me’ and give Google permission to access your location. Next thing you know, you have a list of nearby options.

At this point, it’s crucial to note geolocation cannot track a person, only their electronic device, and only while connected to the internet. So, if you’re offline or you left your phone at home, Google’s out of luck.

Geolocation, how does it work?

As mentioned above, one method geolocation providers use to track location is via IP address. Geolocation providers have access to various databases that provide the information needed to locate someone based on IP.

Primary sources for IP data are Regional Internet Registries. Registries are responsible for managing and distributing IP addresses in specific global regions.

While your IP doesn’t readily reveal your identity or address, it can help pinpoint your general location.

However, for Ontario online casino operators trying to adhere to jurisdictional regulations, often the accuracy of IP geolocation is not enough to ensure regulatory compliance.

Assume the (global) position

A far more accurate way to pinpoint location is through GPS positioning. It’s also the standard for geolocation in the US, chiefly due to compliance issues.

Geolocation providers, including Ontario sports betting operators, gather GPS data from devices and cellular networks to achieve this accuracy. Together, they use the data to either allow or block customers to access particular services depending on their location. Essentially, geolocation is an electronic fence that can keep people in or out based on regulatory requirements.

Geofencing is why, before January 8, New Yorkers had to travel to New Jersey if they wanted to make an online sports bet. Now that sportsbooks are legal in New York, they can place their bets from home. However, they still have to make the trip if they want to access NJ sports betting markets. Otherwise, their GPS data will ensure they’re geofenced out.

Providers also have safeguards to ensure bettors aren’t spoofing their location with an outside VPN. Virtual Private Networks route all internet activity through an encrypted connection, preventing others from seeing what you get up to online and from where you’re doing it.

(For example, Canadians may spoof a US locale to access American Netflix. Although if a company employs hardy geofencing technology, location requirements can be near impossible to skirt around.)

Don’t hate the players; hate the game

When it comes to geolocation technology, one of the world’s most respected geofencing companies is homegrown.

GeoComply is a Vancouver-based company with a near-monopoly on providing geolocation technology to the North American gaming industry. It’s a sure bet they’ll be heavily involved in meeting the geofencing challenges in Ontario.

A possible alternative to GeoComply is LocationSmart, a competitor offering services for gaming-related geolocation compliance.

Both companies use a cloud-based platform to assist betting companies in confirming users are able to gamble in a particular geographic zone. And as noted earlier, they aim to provide fraud prevention and cyber security solutions by detecting location scams and verifying a user’s true digital identity.

OneComply has also pushed itself as “one platform for 360-degree compliance management” in recent industry reports.

Lessons learned from previous launches

Ontario is an ample opportunity for geofencing providers as it borders Manitoba, Quebec, and the Northern United States. And, with a population of nearly 15 million, the market is the fifth largest in North America, surpassing PA, NJ and MI.

Nearly half of Ontario’s residents live in the greater Toronto area, home to around 7 million. And that’s where most online gaming will be happening.

When New York’s online gambling market launched back in January, GeoComply tracked the locations of all the wagers in play in the state. Within the first 36 hours of sports betting legalization, GeoComply saw more than 17 million location checks.

This kind of security is invaluable to online businesses that need to identify their users, especially in border cities like Detroit, Windsor, Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Even Montreal will require pinpoint location accuracy to ensure regulatory compliance. In all cases, vigorous geofencing technology is the answer.

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Katarina Vojvodic Avatar
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina is a Toronto-based online gambling writer who holds a master's degree in journalism. Before joining PlayCanada, she was part of the AskGamblers crew where she reported about the world of online casinos and interviewed numerous iGaming experts. Being in the industry for 5 years, she became an expert in online slots.

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