Players, Industry Rally To Bring Operators Back To Ontario Daily Fantasy Sports

Written By Jose Colorado on October 4, 2022
The push is on to bring DFS back to Ontario. Image shows DAILY FANTASY SPORTS text centred, displayed in a black and blue box with white lettering

Ontario players want their Daily Fantasy Sports back.

That’s the message from players across the province since DFS became a casualty of Ontario’s new gambling ecosystem in April. Major operators chose to pull the plug on DFS in Ontario after new regulations restricted player pools to those within provincial borders.

Critics blame the strict government regulations.

Regardless of the reason, DFS players are rallying to change the rules via online petitions, letter-writing campaigns and more.

Lee, an 8-year DFS player, said via email that frustrations have been mounting for a while. PlayCanada omitted Lee’s last name at his request.

“For years we have been able to play DFS with no restrictions, and now, thanks to what seems like a rushed and bungled rollout of new legislation, Ontario becomes the only province in Canada where DFS is not fully operational.

It’s frustrating to lose a favourite hobby because legislators didn’t understand what they were doing.”

Ontario DFS a victim of new provincial igaming regulations

DFS’s day of reckoning occurred on April 4, when the province officially opened its competitive Ontario online sportsbook and casino market to private operators.

While universally applauded at the time, hiccups, delays and surprisingly sparse financial reporting have earned rightful critique. To that end, DFS – most popular amongst hardcore NFL fans – was also negatively impacted.

In Ontario, regulators define fantasy sports as a “pay-to-play” product – not “a game of skill,” as in some US states. That’s an important distinction.

Because of that categorization, DFS falls under Ontario’s iGaming regulations – guidelines that state all participants must be within the province. As a result, major operators quickly pulled the plug on DFS offerings.

Primary concerns include smaller player pools, high licensing fees and a reduced customer experience.

DFS still permitted in Ontario. But, there’s a big ‘but’

Companies are still able to offer paid DFS contests. And in reality, a couple of operators still do.

But – as the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario states on its website – it’s up to each operator whether they do or not.

“Regulated operators who have been registered by the AGCO and entered into an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario are permitted to offer pay-to-play fantasy sports once they go live in Ontario’s new igaming market.

Choosing whether or not to offer pay-to-play fantasy sports is an individual business decision that rests with registered operators.”

Major operators shutter Ontario DFS communities

Ultimately, many operators likely find the cost of doing business in Ontario too high.

For starters, the province’s igaming licensing fee is $100,000. That’s nearly twice as much as any US jurisdiction where most major players operate. Reportedly, operators must also fork over 20-25% of their revenue.

Add in a reduced player pool, and it’s easy to see why brands such as DraftKings and FanDuel pulled out early.

But what’s been tough on the major operators is nearly implausible for smaller companies.

Ultimately, players – such as Lee – feel the pinch.

“I hope that enough awareness is raised so that Ontario legislators get their act together and allow DFS to return to Ontario in a manner where the companies can still stand to profit and the province can take their piece too – just a much smaller piece than what legislation has currently proposed.”

Another long-time DFS player, Kevin (last name withheld), told PlayCanada in an email that he enjoys building daily fantasy lineups because of the challenge and expertise involved.

Sportsbooks, he said, are a poor substitute.

“As of right now, I have no interest in supporting any form of sportsbook… most of them have poor payout policies. They quickly accept credit card payments and offer generous bonus incentives. But even if you win, you must clear hurdles before receiving your profits.”

OwnersBox continues to offer Ontario DFS contests

Despite the uphill battle, a select few companies are still forging forward. One of those is OwnersBox – a Kitchener-based sports tech company marketing itself as a leader in the paid-DFS space.

Approximately 40,000 users currently use the platform, and former NFL quarterback Drew Brees is an investor.

Financially speaking, OwnersBox payouts can’t compete with the big dogs, which makes sense. Naturally, smaller player pool sizes yield smaller returns.

Players conflicted over ‘ringfence’ regulations

Then there’s the player experience. According to Lee, one of DFS’s greatest thrills is the idea of players going up against others from different locales.

However, restricting play within Ontario compromises the experience. And some players have gone to great lengths to recapture the glory days.

Scrolling through a well-known instant messaging platform shows players coordinating trips across the borders, signing up for DFS contests and rearranging their lines at home.

Others support ringfencing.

Charles (name changed) – a 15-year fantasy player who spoke to PlayCanada via phone – is one.

“One thing players have to remember is a bigger pool of players means bigger competition. Typically, in those cases you’re going up against the best and brightest minds who are using algorithms, software and tools.

By ringfencing it, those people are limited so I do like it in some ways. I just wish the big operators would come back.”

Prospect of changing Ontario DFS regulations soon remains slim

Unfortunately, for players such as Lee and Charles, the chance of DFS rules changing anytime soon is slim. Reportedly, AGCO has a 12-month “lock” on regulations so that regulators can properly assess validity.

But a movement has begun to expedite that.

A group called Fantasy Sports For All, a collaboration between DFS providers — including FanDuel and DraftKings — is one prominent voice. The organization has put together a campaign to raise awareness and email members of the Ontario legislature. Its ultimate goal is to help revamp the province’s regulatory framework for DFS.

So far, the campaign has the support of DFS influencers and the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, an advocacy group for players and operators.

Others are taking matters into their own hands in other ways, such as the travelling DFS rogues.

Ontario Online sportsbooks and casinos serve players instead

Of course, Ontario bettors can still play on their favourite big-name platforms despite the restrictions. They just can’t access the fantasy markets.

Indeed, casino and sportsbook offerings remain available across Ontario. One may argue that DFS and sports betting hold many similarities – why not just bet on sports?

According to Lee, who uses both DraftKings sportsbook and DFS services, the experiences significantly differ.

“To me, DFS is better because you are playing against other people rather than ‘the house.’

I also like that you can win big prizes off of small buy-ins. I really like the strategy involved in drafting a lineup under a tight salary cap. There’s a lot of research involved – it feels more like a hobby than using a Sportsbook does.”

And Lee isn’t alone in his preference for DFS over sports betting. Kevin feels much the same.

“I will not be supporting OLG in any manner since I am so angry with Ontario for their choice. Not a single penny will be spent on the lottery 649, scratch cards, or online casinos. Additionally, I have no interest in betting on parlays or player props.”

“If nothing changes and DFS is [basically] permanently outlawed in Ontario, I will be leaving the province in the coming year. Many people have already.”

Photo by Shutterstock / PlayCanada
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