It’s a great time to be a Canadian sports bettor.
This past year has been an eventful one in the Canadian sports betting and igaming realm and 2024 has the potential to bring even more bettors access to retail and online sportsbooks, safer gaming platforms, and more legal betting and gaming markets than ever before.
Ontario’s success with its regulated igaming model this past year has caught the attention of provincial industry regulators all across the country. Gamblers in Ontario wagered approximately $14.2 billion and the market produced $540 million in total gaming revenue — from iCasino, online sports betting, and online poker — from July 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2023, according to iGaming Ontario’s 2023-24 Q2 market report. And those numbers don’t include igaming revenue from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which offers its own iCasino and retail and online sports betting platform. In its 2022-23 annual report, OLG said it delivered $2.5 billion in net profit to the province of Ontario through its lottery, land-based gaming, and digital platforms.
Since its inception in April 2022, Ontario’s regulated igaming market is showing healthy growth heading into 2024, and regulators should be releasing Q3 financials in January for the final three months of 2023. With a population over 15 million, Ontario is one of the top igaming jurisdictions in North America.
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Which province will be the next to embrace private operators?
The most likely province to regulate its igaming market is Alberta, which has publicly shown interest in expanding its gambling markets outside of the platforms the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission currently offers through PlayAlberta, the only legal online gambling platform in the province.
Back in December of 2021, the AGLC announced it was planning to accept bids for two private operators to run sports betting, with possible mobile extensions, at major professional sports venues across the province. However, industry stakeholders had some major concerns with the RFP (Request for Proposals) and the process is at a stalemate. Interest remains high in expanding gambling in the province at both the political and operator levels, though. Provincial regulators have remained tight-lipped recently when asked directly about any developments in the local gambling realm, but there’s lots of progress being made behind closed doors.
One Canadian igaming executive recently told Canada Sports Betting that “it’s definitely going to happen” when asked about the potential launch of a new regulated igaming market in Alberta. The timeframe and structure for the launch of such a market is vague, though. Could it happen in 2024? Yes, it could. But it could also take much longer.
There’s traction to a lesser extent in Quebec. Last May, A group of eight private online gaming operators and suppliers merged to form the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition (QOGC) with the intent to advocate for a regulated igaming market, like in Ontario. The coalition’s efforts have been initially disregarded and condemned by Loto-Quebec, a crown corporation operating the only legal igaming markets in the province.
About a month ago, the coalition released survey results that revealed Quebecers have a strong interest in a new regulated market, which could produce roughly $230 million in royalties to the provincial government in the form of tax revenue. Several major sports organizations are now backing the coalition as it continues to garner support from industry stakeholders.
The coalition also recently announced a strategic partnership with GeoComply, a third-party location service provider that provides cybersecurity solutions to detect location fraud and verify a user’s true identity. GeoComply will be supporting the coalition with data on Quebecers’ online gambling habits and the Vancouver-based company also supports many of the private operators doing business in Ontario.
Ontario has provided an initial blueprint for other provinces to work with, but drafting the framework for the expansion of gambling in other provinces will certainly be a comprehensive process that has many legal hurdles. However, other provinces will have the advantage of learning from Ontario’s mistakes, which included responsible gambling loopholes to void losing bets, confusion over advertising standards, and operators being charged with unexpected bank fees, among other issues.
Ontario regulators to clamp down on advertising
A major change to the way private operators will be able to promote their products will be taking effect on Feb. 28 next year.
Last August, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced that igaming operators will no longer be able to use current or former athletes, celebrities, social media influencers, and/or entertainers “who would likely be expected to appeal minors” in their advertising unless that advertising pertains to responsible gambling messaging.
The AGCO has given operators a generous six-month grace period to come into full compliance with this change to its advertising standards, and regulators then held roundtable meetings with private operators in an attempt to clarify any issues ahead of the drafting of the final guidance document which will be released early next year.
“I think without a clear formula for determining which influencers/celebs appeal to minors it’s going to be very confusing and potentially messy,” one Canadian igaming executive told CSB regarding the upcoming changes.
The regulator’s advertising changes were prompted by constant pressure by the public, media, community groups, and mental health organizations to address the advertising blitz in the province that has accompanied the launch of Ontario’s regulated igaming market in April 2022.
The AGCO also vowed to address the issue of .NET advertising moving forward. During last June’s Canadian Gaming Summit, outgoing CEO and Registrar Tom Mungham said abolishing free-to-play ads in the province would be a top priority in 2024.
“I’m tired and frustrated with .NET advertising and people trying to work that loophole,” he exclaimed. “Those .NET advertisements are meant to channel you to a play-for-money site. That doesn’t have a place in Ontario in my view. We’re pulling any levers we can, and we’ll work with media companies as a first step to try and get some of that advertising gone. Lots of work being done there, including outreach with the federal government.”
At the federal level, Bill S-269, sponsored by Senator Marty Deacon, was tabled in June with the aim of establishing a national framework for advertising for sports betting. The legislation tasks the government with placing “reasonable” limits on sports betting advertising to protect society, children, and youth. The next step in the parliamentary process will be a second reading at the Senate level. A bill can become law only once the same text has been approved by both Houses of Parliament and has received royal assent.
At the end of 2022, The Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke launched a constitutional challenge against iGaming Ontario (iGO) and the Attorney General of Ontario over the changes the provincial government made in April 2022 when it launched its new regulated igaming market.
The Council said the changes to the online gaming structure were “illegal and unconstitutional” and a Notice of Application was filed with the Ontario Superior Court. The first hearing date is scheduled for Feb. 24 next year as the Council seeks to abolish Ontario’s new regulatory framework for igaming.
This case, as previously discussed with Toronto-based gaming lawyer Jack Tadman, will explore the province’s interpretation of what “conduct and manage” under Section 207 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada actually means. In other words, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will have to rule on if the Ontario government is, in fact, “conducting and managing” the new igaming scheme in the province.
This lawsuit will likely examine the inner workings, relationships, and processes between the provincial government, its subsidiaries (iGO and AGCO), and the private igaming operators in the province to determine who actually has operational control of the market.
“My understanding of ‘conduct and manage’ was always that the province operates the gaming site,” Tadman previously told CSB. “It can contract with a primary service provider to fulfill certain obligations, but the province must function as the ‘controlling mind.’ How can you conduct and manage a gaming site without essentially being the operator? How do you conduct and manage someone else’s brand?
“The province is confident that, through legal consultation, it has come up with a legal framework that supports the registration of igaming operators and meets its conduct and manage obligations.”
The Council says it has “facilitated, conducted, and safely regulated gaming activities on behalf of the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke for decades, and this new regime ignores their expertise in the gaming sector, and will result in the loss of significant revenue to the community of Kahnawà:ke.”
With the market already up and running for nearly two years and generating significant tax revenue for the province, will the court take this application seriously? Could Ontario’s igaming market be in jeopardy? We’ll find out over the next several months.
Great summer for sports betting
On a lighter note, 2024 has the potential to be an incredibly exciting year for sports bettors.
In addition to wildly popular events like the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup Playoffs, and NBA Playoffs, the sports calendar next summer should pique the interest of bettors over the typically slow summer season.
Euro 2024, one of the biggest soccer tournaments on the planet besides the FIFA World Cup, will take place in Germany from June 14-July 14. Canada, of course, is not permitted in this tournament featuring the best soccer nations in Europe, but Canadian soccer fans and bettors will surely be interested in this global event.
And if soccer isn’t your thing, perhaps the 2024 Summer Olympic Games might satisfy your urge to bet on something different over the scorching summer months. The Games, which will get underway in Paris from July 26-August 11, should be captivating with Canada sending elite teams for basketball, track and field, swimming, tennis, and soccer. These Games will also feature the debut of breakdancing as an Olympic sport. Can you bet on that? I’m not sure, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for odds, just for fun.