Alberta Minister Reveals Igaming Expansion Plans: ‘We Want A Free And Open Market’ Like Ontario

Yegor Sharangovich #17, Rasmus Andersson #4 and teammates of the Calgary Flames celebrate a goal against the Arizona Coyotes at the Scotiabank Saddledome on April 14, 2024 in Calgary, Alberta

More details emerged Thursday about the plans to evolve the province of Alberta‘s igaming structure.

Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Dale Nally delivered a 20-minute address to the audience at the Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto, revealing more insights into the province’s plans to enhance its igaming structure.

After a 15-minute sales pitch on how businesses are thriving in Alberta, Nally — who calls himself the “Minister of Fun” as he oversees alcohol, cannabis, and gaming in the province — finally got down to brass tacks and gave the audience what it had been waiting for.

“We want a free and open market,” Nally announced. “It’s going to look very similar to Ontario because we’re following their model. As far as I’m concerned, they built the roadmap and we’re working through that now. We’re probably going to massage it a little bit, so it’s got a little bit of a spin on Alberta, but really, it’s being inspired by the market in Ontario.”

Nally believes the open model will thrive in the province, which he says has Canada’s lowest corporate tax rate and is on the verge of unprecedented prosperity. Nally referenced a recent study that is predicting the Alberta economy will grow at twice the national average.

”We are entering the biggest economic boom our province has ever seen,” he explained. “We’ve seen economic booms before, but this one will be big.”

Nally also spoke about how Albertans love their sports and described their passion for wagering on various sporting events and players. He referenced a record-breaking 50/50 draw at Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final last Saturday in Edmonton that reached a staggering $16 million jackpot. The winner, of course, took home $8 million of that prize pool. To put that in perspective, the average 50-50 jackpot size for a Toronto Maple Leafs home game this season was just $65,000, according to the MLSE Foundation.

”We have the best hockey team in the world – the Edmonton Oilers,” the self-proclaimed “Minister of Fun” declared. “Mr. [Doug] Downey, you should really consider a professional hockey team for Toronto.”

The joke pointed at the Attorney General of Ontario drew a mixed reaction from the audience. The Maple Leafs fans in attendance groaned collectively while fans of other hockey teams enjoyed a good laugh. The moderator of Nally’s session at the conference, Steve McAllister from Gaming News Canada, even joked after the session that Nally would have to “fight” his way through the angry mob to exit the stage area after the offside comment.

But aside from the jokes, the “Minister of Fun” was very direct about the government’s intentions to get an open, regulated igaming market up and running. He’s not concerned about a potential influx of sports betting advertisements, a major consequence of Ontario launching its regulated igaming market in 2022. In fact, he’s upset that his constituents currently can’t partake in gambling with private operators.

“We love those [gambling] ads,” Nally said. “But there’s something we don’t like about them. That little disclaimer on the bottom of the ad that says Ontario-only. We’ve got to change that. Albertans love to gamble. We love our moneylines, we love our spreads, we love the over/under, and we love any propositional bet involving Taylor Swift.”

As far as a timeline goes for a potential launch of such a market in Alberta, Nally wouldn’t tip his hand. He did, however, say that the government is consulting its 45 First Nations partners on the matter over the summer as the next part of the process.

“We will be their partners, and we will allow First Nations and Indigenous communities to be part of the prosperity that our province brings, and that includes igaming,” he explained. “That’s why we’re doing consultations with First Nations communities right now to hear what their perspective is because we need to hear what they want, what their vision is, and how they want to help.”

Nally’s office recently told Canada Sports Betting that the government was aware of several key dates for a prospective launch of a new regulated igaming market: the Grey Cup (November), Super Bowl (Feb. 2025), and the NHL playoffs (April 2025). However, nothing is concrete at this point, and the situation remains fluid.

Alberta a hot topic at the conference

Alberta was the focus of two other panels at the Summit, which attracts thousands of gambling industry professionals from all around the globe each year.

The general consensus was that if Alberta can launch a successful open market, like Ontario, it could force other provincial jurisdictions across Canada to have serious conversations about regulating their respective markets, too.

“Should Alberta do this successfully, and I think they will, it’ll help to drive that snowball down the hill,” said Patrick Harris, managing partner at Rubicon Strategy, during one of the panel discussions. “It’s going to be very difficult for other provinces to ignore the model.

Fellow panellist Martin Lycka, the SVP of American Regulatory Affairs & Responsible Gambling for Entain, agreed with Harris.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Ontario established themselves as the platinum standard of igaming regulation,” he stated.

And Troy Ross, president of TRM Public Affairs, is predicting that Alberta could have its new competitive igaming model up and running by the end of the year, stating the government is aggressively pushing this agenda forward.

“If Alberta follows a very similar regime to Ontario, they’re going to get a similar result,” Ross said during the discussion, while also roughly projecting Alberta could earn at least $100 million in net revenue taxes in the market’s first year of operation. He also believes the size of the provincial gambling markets are drastically underestimated across Canada and that Alberta has the potential to be a shining example of a world-class gambling jurisdiction alongside Ontario.

In Ontario, over 50 operators are now doing business in the regulated online gambling market after it launched in 2022. Alberta doesn’t plan to cap, at least at this point, its potential number of operators in the province that’s home to roughly 5 million people.

“They [provincial government] want the free market to determine the number of operators,” Ross stated.

We likely won’t see 50-plus operators in Alberta due to its smaller population than Ontario (roughly 15 million), but after talking with many industry insiders this week, Albertans are expected to produce huge revenue numbers on a per-customer basis. Many of those insiders believe the sweet spot might be 20-30 operators doing business in the province once the market is up and running and at its full potential.

A recent iGaming Ontario and Deloitte study found that Ontario’s regulated competitive igaming market sustained almost 15,000 jobs and added a combined $1.24 billion to federal, provincial, and municipal government revenues in its second year of operation. The regulated igaming market also contributed $2.7 billion to Ontario’s GDP in its second year of operation, up from $1.58 billion in its first year. All of those figures don’t include the financial contributions from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. In its 2022-23 fiscal report, OLG says the crown corporation delivered $2.5 billion in net profit to the province through its lottery, land-based gaming, and digital gaming sectors, smashing the previous yearly record of $2.3 billion set back in 2019-20.

Currently, the only legal sports betting and igaming option for Albertans is through AGLC’s PlayAlberta website. According to AGLC’s 2022-23 annual report, a total of $4.4 billion in bets were placed on PlayAlberta across all games in 2023, which was an increase of 22.2% compared to 2022. However, online sports betting only accounted for 3% of net sales, with iCasino and online lottery driving the majority of revenue. Many Albertans are wagering with dangerous grey market igaming operators, though.

Playing on a regulated gaming site ensures player deposits are protected, winnings are paid out, and personal information and data is secure. A regulated marketplace also ensures game play has fair and competitive odds and that there are responsible gambling resources to keep the experience fun.