According to an announcement, the well-known “Winners Welcome” sportsbook legally opened to Ontario players at Pinnacle.ca on Wednesday.
“We want to give our customers a true and unique betting experience, showcasing to them what sports betting can and should look like,” said Paris Smith, Pinnacle’s CEO, in the release.
“At Pinnacle.ca, that means great odds on the sports Ontario bettors care about, a strong focus on responsible gambling, and the welcoming of both recreational customers and the sharpest professionals around.”
Pinnacle’s unique approach to Ontario sports betting
The way I look at it,” Steven Rapp told PlayCanada, “is if you’ve been a bettor in this space for the last 15 years, you know Pinnacle. And that brand is going to resonate.” Rapp took on the role of Canada country manager for the online sportsbook and casino this past summer.
“My job is going to be the new bettors… to get to people that have seen some pain points since April. [With] problem bets being thrown back at them and spinning wheels and limits and things of that nature. And I just think that’s the differentiator story we can bring here. And I think this market is ripe for it.”
And that very well could be.
Rapp should know. He’s helped companies like Bowman.com, Bet365, and Sports Interaction succeed in Canada over his 23 years in the industry. Until this year, he also hosted a Sunday morning sports betting radio show on Sportsnet called Inside The Lines. Rapp was with the show for 20 years, making him something of a sports betting and gambling veteran.
He wanted to work with Pinnacle, he said, because of the respect it earned over the years. And for the company’s unique approach to sports betting.
“The low margin, winners welcome, high limits; I just thought that was a good bookend for a career. A good way to sail off into the sunset.”
But, even if this is his last hurrah, Rapp’s not done with Pinnacle or Ontario yet.
Better odds, higher limits, winners welcome
With Pinnacle’s legal Ontario reentry, bettors will benefit from its focus on delivering better odds. The company is also serious about its commitment to responsible gaming. That alone will go a long way to keeping them on the good side of Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission and iGaming Ontario, the bodies responsible for regulating and managing online commercial gambling in the province.
Ontario sports bettors will also enjoy betting and content across all major sports, including NFL, NHL, NBA, soccer, and tennis. And soon, esports fans will have access to wagering on Pinnacle’s multi-award-winning Esports Hub.
“I’m hoping we will get a good percentage of the market share,” said Rapp over Zoom.
“We come in with some brand awareness, anyways… I mean, we’re not going to spend a lot [on marketing] coming out, so we’ll see how we lift. I think if the first couple of days has been any indication, there’s been a little bit of a pent-up wait out there in the marketplace for Pinnacle to go licenced, to get regulated in Ontario… People seemed to be waiting for us to be regulated. So I hope that plays out.”
Pinnacle wants to make you a better bettor
A big part of the Pinnacle draw, and what makes them different, is their lack of bonuses. Instead, the veteran book made its name by offering better odds and high limits and welcoming everyone — from novice punters to the sharpest of sharp bettors.
Many have long speculated that what makes Pinnacle able to forego bonuses and deliver such great odds is fewer regulatory requirements and fees as an offshore sportsbook. If so, will its entry into Ontario’s regulated market affect Pinnacle’s ability to maintain those core strategies?
Rapp doesn’t think so.
“The bonus structure will not change,” he said.
“We will be low margins, high limits. We will not kick out winners… And I’m hoping that part of the education process is that people will realize in the long run laying 1.05 is better than laying 1.10 and 1.15. And sure, you might get a bonus, and maybe you’ll churn through it three times or six times and get it, but you’ll be doing it at higher margins and worse odds.”
“There’s always going to be people that are going to be bonus hunters… I’m not sure they’re the pinnacle players we want. We want this smart player, the sharp player. We want to make you a better bettor.”
To assist with that aim, Pinnacle hosts robust betting resources on its sites. Topics covered range from beginner tips and tricks to deep dives for more experienced bettors.
Great odds over The Great One
So, you won’t see Pinnacle leaning on big ad spends and flashy brand ambassadors.
“We don’t have Jamie Foxx and Wayne Gretzky,” said Rapp.
“We are going to lean heavily on our USPs (unique marketing propositions)… My job is to find ways to convince, to explain to people there is a [better] way to bet… And [it] is not blindly taking the only odds given to you.”
And in Ontario, where the government strictly regulates gambling advertising, Pinnacle’s strategy of foregoing bonuses for better odds might be even more of a boon.
“I like them,” said Rapp of Ontario’s ad rules.
“I mean, to be honest with you, it’s just the way I look at the advertising regulations. You can’t promote incentives or bonuses or giveaways or free plays and all that stuff, right? We don’t have that.”
Pinnacle’s roadmap to regulation
With Pinnacle’s move into Ontario’s regulated market, many have speculated whether this signals an intention to go legit in other jurisdictions, too.
“Yeah. I think that is on the roadmap,” said Rapp.
“I think their plan is regulated everywhere… Ontario is obviously one where they had a bit of a foothold in the grey market, and they had a customer base… So, it was a natural step, obviously, with the fifth largest market in North America… it was a natural fit.”
That said, Pinnacle has no plans to shutter grey market operations in the rest of Canada, especially since Ontario’s regulations don’t require operators to pull out of other unregulated jurisdictions. As long as you’re not operating unregulated sites in Ontario, you’re good.
“Pinnacle will continue their .com,” said Rapp.
However, the company does not offer .net or free-to-play services. So they miss out on the opportunity to attract and convert customers from free to pay-to-play sites.
Pan-Canadian lottery coalition opposes grey market sites
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that’s enough for Canada’s other provincial lottery corporations. Recently the lotteries in BC, Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada created a coalition to educate bettors about illegal gambling risks. That said, there’s not much those lotteries can do to shut down illegal sites.
“It’s certainly a significant problem,” said Steve Lautischer, executive vice-president of business operations with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis.
“In Alberta, we estimate somewhere between $400 and $500 million annually is spent with unregulated i-gaming offers.”
While the coalition doesn’t expect to dismantle the illegal markets operating offshore, it hopes players will become better able to identify and avoid playing on unregulated sites.
Like the coalition, Lautischer urges bettors to use caution.
“Just because something is presented to them, they should still be cautious and careful about where they’re sharing their personal information, their banking information, how they’re participating so that we can protect our citizens.”
So far, so good
When we spoke to Rapp last week, Pinnacle was deep into day two of legal operations in Ontario.
While it was a little too soon for an in-depth look at how it was going so far, early indications are positive, even with the minor bumps expected with this kind of transition.
“I have to [be] honest; it’s been busy,” said Rapp. “I haven’t had the heart to reach out to anybody and go, so how are the numbers looking?
However, he added, “there were a lot of smiles this morning on the daily call.”