Coming off a historic 2022 that saw Ontario pioneer regulated iGaming in Canada, plenty of question marks remained heading into 2023. For example:
- Is the Ontario model a blueprint for long-term success?
- How much competition is too much competition?
- Will other provinces follow Ontario’s lead?
- Are the existing responsible gambling measures effective?
- Will there be a cap on the number of gambling ads?
It all sounds so overwhelming, but there’s no need to panic. PlayCanada has helped answer all the burning questions that lie within the Canadian iGaming ecosystem.
With the end of the calendar year fast approaching, we figured now is the perfect time to revisit the 10 biggest storylines of 2023.
It is coming to you in a two-part series, we begin the countdown with numbers 10 through six.
10. Gambling ads during Ontario NFL games not as prevalent as you might think
Ads for Ontario online casinos and sportsbooks, and their regular position on devices around the country, were the talk of the town early on. While it’s true that they still pop up on a fairly routine basis, a recent PlayCanada analysis says it’s not exactly fair or accurate to call it an ad avalanche anymore.
During Week 15 of the NFL season, we tallied the number of gambling ads shown between six different games across four different networks. Specifically, we wanted to find out how many made responsible gambling in Ontario its core message.
Half-a-dozen games and 698 ads later, we found that 9.3% of promotions were gambling-related (65 total). Of those 65 wagering ads:
- 86.2% were for an Ontario sportsbook (56 total)
- 7.7% promoted Ontario online casinos (5 total)
- 4.6 % were for an Ontario retail casino (3 total)
- 1.5% promoted the Ontario lottery (1 total)
This analysis also discovered that 12 of the 65 gambling ads or 18.5% contained an RG-centric message. Further, 50 of the 65 ads (76.9% of the overall total) came from leading operator FanDuel Canada.
Of course, this is a sample and not science. However, it at least suggests action is being taken to calm the onslaught of operator promotions.
9. AGCO fines against Ontario gambling operators top $600,000 in 18 months
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario certainly has not been shy about cracking down on rule violations. In just over a year and a half, the regulatory body has handed out $608,000 in fines to eleven different operators. Among those to incur monetary penalties in 2023 include:
- PointsBet: $150,000 in November for not appropriately responding to a ‘high-risk’ account.
- Casino Woodbine: $80,000 in September following allegations of a cheat-at-play and dealer collusion scheme.
- Apollo Entertainment: $100,000 in August for responsible gambling-related improprieties.
- BV Gaming and Fitzdares Canada: $15,000 each for offering bets on major junior hockey.
- ComeOn, Conquestador, and LeoVegas: $70,000 total for allegedly providing unregulated games on their sites.
BetMGM and PointsBet were the first companies to receive disciplinary action back in May 2022 for advertising rule infractions. Two months later, DraftKings also got dinged for allegedly breaking AGCO policies on advertised inducements.
Since these incidents occurred in 2022, we’ve excluded their shared total penalty of $178,000. Doing so leaves the 2023 total at $430,000.
8. Expert: Video game loot boxes allowing kids in Canada to gamble
This key feature in just about every modern video game stirred up quite the controversy in European gambling research circles long before hitting mainstream North American news outlets in 2023. Whoever was first on it is moot, however, as researchers across the globe collectively agree they’re problematic.
One of those esteemed investigators, Canadian youth problem gambling expert Dr. Jeff Derevensky, told PlayCanada in October that video game loot boxes are little more than gambling in disguise.
“What we’ve been studying over the last few years is the amalgamation and the merger between gaming and gambling,” Derevensky said. “You go on some of these games, online games which are for fun, and you can actually start gambling with real money.”
Loot boxes are rewards within video games. Said rewards can be purchased either with virtual currencies or real money via a credit card. What is inside the boxes is a mystery prior to purchase. Many say that makes them a game of chance.
Video game companies are not authorized to offer gambling anywhere in Canada. However, the finding that loot boxes are effectively a disguised form of gambling makes the fact that they predominantly appeal to people well below the legal gambling age all the more alarming.
That, Derevensky said, is a problem that needs addressing.
7. Interview: efforts to legalize online gambling in Québec growing
As things stand, Ontario is the only Canadian province to offer both third-party and government-run forms of online wagering. Well, at least in a legal, regulated fashion.
But once it received the green light on April 4, 2022, one obvious question emerged: “Who’s next?” Based on the conversations we’ve had with the spokesperson for a group lobbying to legalize online gambling in Quebec, it seems La Belle Province is headed in the right direction.
Our second chat with Nathalie Bergeron of the Québec Online Gaming Coalition came at the beginning of December. It was at this time, Dec. 1 to be exact, that the coalition released the results of its Mainstree Research survey examining the gaming habits of 1010 Quebecers who wager online.
- 72% of Québec players who use Loto-Québec’s Espace Jeux, do so exclusively to purchase lottery tickets
- 26.6% of players visit Espace Jeux to play online casino games or bet on sports (excludes lottery players)
- 73% of Québec players choose privately-operated sites for online casino and sports betting activities
- 67% of Québec players are in favour of regulating private online operators through a licensing and tax system
- 56% of Québec bettors agree that an independent body should oversee the province’s gaming offering, including Loto-Québec.
According to Bergeron, these results prove the existing system is not indicative of what gamblers in Québec are looking for, and therefore, no longer the right answer.
6. One year in, operators assess the legal Ontario online gambling market
Anything can happen in one day, let alone one year. That’s especially true for something as unprecedented as Ontario’s move to welcome more than 50 private online gambling operators into the province.
We spoke with six of these operators back in late March to gather where they stand after a year in the Ontario market. Between representatives from theScore Bet, FanDuel Canada, PointsBet, Kindred Group, Rivalry, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, one thought was universally shared: Ontario has one of the most competitive gaming markets on the continent.
What makes it so? For PointsBet’s Canada CEO Scott Vanderwel, it’s the overall structural attractiveness. For Amanda Brewer, the former Canada country manager for the Kindred Group that operates the soon-to-depart Unibet, it was brand diversity, among other things.
That said, operators also experienced their fair share of challenges, including navigating around the non-legal “grey-market.” This says, Dale Hooper, general manager of FanDuel Canada, was the biggest challenge for the globally recognized wagering site.
Benjie Levy, president and chief operating officer of theScore echoed Hooper’s sentiment. Levy said Ontario has been, “the most challenging market to launch into because you’re not launching from a standing start, you’re launching against incumbent competitors who have had five, 10, 15 years head start, like the bet365s of the world.”
All things considered, the group still expressed confidence in the market’s long-term viability.
Top 5 storylines of 2023 coming soon…
The second and final part of PlayCanada’s 10 biggest storylines of 2023 will drop tomorrow. Stay tuned for the five most impactful reports of the year.