The Ontario online casino and sports betting market earned rave reviews from industry experts speaking at last week’s SBC Summit North America.
Most notably, Andrew Darley, VP of iCasino and iLottery at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., firmly touted the province’s online gambling market as the world’s best. While he couldn’t provide exact figures due to confidentiality reasons, Darley did say the corporation is experiencing continued growth.
“I would say confidently, if you add our number to the iGO numbers, we are the number one market in the world.
“I think that’s important to understand the importance of having both the provincially-regulated group and the operators from all over the world.”
Last month, iGaming Ontario shared the earnings results for Ontario operators from its first year. Ontario sports betting and casino operators posted total revenue of some $1.4 billion between April 2022 and April 2023.
Ontario ranks fifth when compared to the seven US states that also have both online casinos and sports betting, plus New York, which has better numbers than Ontario just with sportsbooks alone.
What is important to note is Ontario’s numbers do not include online gambling figures from the OLG, the province-run legacy operator.
Those numbers have not, yet, been released. But it was the contention of some of the SBC panelists that if the OLG figures were included, Ontario would be #1 — or close to it — in the world for online gambling.
Panel discussions also touched upon Ontario’s regulatory framework
The panel discussion went beyond the Ontario market’s eye-popping numbers to discuss the nature of its regulatory structure.
Dave Phillips the chief operating officer of the AGCO, spoke about what it’s been like for a government entity joining a new industry. He shared key characteristics that helped the regulation process run smoothly.
Phillips said the consultative nature of the framework enabled operators to work closely alongside governing bodies during the development of the regulations, therefore, increasing the likelihood of compliance.
Much like good customer service, Phillips said the catalyst for building effective regulation, is two-way communication.
“Good regulatory policy is always made better if you engage in real, two-way communication,” he said. “We did five rounds of consultation, and we had the benefit of (taking the) experiences of jurisdictions in other parts of the world.
“We have 45 operators and twice as many suppliers. The level of interdependency is absolutely massive.”
He said in place is a pointed strategy addressing unregulated markets.
Other panelists from the operator side echoed Phillips’ remarks. They agreed that communication has been productive and, in turn, helped create a level market rooted in fairness.
Province’s ban on advertising bonuses exemplifies fairness, per expert
Bruce Caughill is the Canadian lead for Rush Street Interative, the parent of BetRivers. He said he believes the inability to advertise bonuses, inducements or credits holds operators to the same standards. He also finds that operators have no choice but to focus on developing a stronger product. The reason? They can’t be bailed out by offering a better bonus than the competition.
“It’s forced us all to market on products and offerings,” Caughill said. “As everyone says, it’s a level playing field. The one thing I would say is I think, as we move forward, is the interpretation of that restriction because I really do think it’s very important to continue to allow operators to market on product.”
Caughill’s remarks follow the concept that fair competition amongst service providers will only produce the highest quality offerings for consumers. But with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s recent proposal to ban all forms of iGaming advertising, it will be interesting to see how operators may pivot.
Panel concludes by projecting future outlook of Ontario market
The SBC Summit North America wrapped up in traditional seminar fashion by looking towards the future.
In doing so, the general consensus among experts is that Ontario’s market is already a serious battleground. The province is home to over 40 operators and 76 online gaming sites.
Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, said Ontario’s market is still growing. He asked the panel if they believe the level of competition and innovation is sustainable in the mid-to-long term.
Marina Bogard, managing director of North America at Betsson, said she doesn’t see long-term sustainability within the current structure. Instead, she envisions a market that, at some point, will become a consolidation.
“It’s really hard to be profitable if you are only a sportsbook,” she said. “So you have to have multiple products like casino in order to get to profitability.
“When you look at the US market, it’ll start to consolidate and we’re starting to see some completely drop off. There will be the top three or four, and then you’re gonna have a few down at the bottom, and the rest are either going to get acquired or be out of business.”
In Ontario, Coolbet became the first operator to depart after pulling the plug in late March of this year. Based on Bogard’s comments, it may not be long before more operators follow suit.