No Timetable For Regulated Online Gambling Market In Alberta, But ‘Key Target Dates’ Revealed

Corey Perry #90 of the Edmonton Oilers and Nazem Kadri #91 of the Calgary Flames track the play in the second period on FEBRUARY 24, 2024 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

It appears as though Alberta will be the second Canadian province to embrace a regulated igaming market, but when exactly is it going to happen?

That’s the question that Canada Sports Betting’s readers have been flooding our inboxes with ever since the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission announced in 2021 that it was planning to accept bids from two private operators to set up retail sports betting at a handful of professional sports venues in the province with possible mobile extensions. The initial timetable to get retail sports betting up and running in Alberta was 2022, but private operators had issues with the Request for Proposals and the government agency’s approach to regulation.

The conversation around regulating sports betting was reignited in February, though, when the provincial budget included $1 million to support the review of the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act in regards to regulation, with the objectives of reducing the regulatory burden on business and finding ways to increase contributions to charities/community facilities.

The Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction, Dale Nally, was also making the rounds at igaming industry conferences over the winter months, further fuelling speculation that Alberta was serious about revamping its online gambling structure and potentially ending AGLC’s legal monopoly.

All of these recent developments suggest it’s now just a matter of when, not if, Alberta will regulate its online gambling space.

“While we have not set a firm timeline, we’re mindful of major events like the Grey Cup, Super Bowl, and 2025 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs as key target dates, and we are working as fast as we can to bring in a regulatory regime,” the Press Secretary to the Honourable Dale Nally, Nicky Gocuan, told CSB via email this week.

That means a potential window to launch a regulated sports betting market in the province could open as soon as November (Grey Cup) through April 2025 (the start of next year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs). The next Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 9, 2025.

Developing the framework for a regulated igaming market is incredibly complex, though, and the process may take even longer than expected. In Ontario, it took close to a decade before regulation came to fruition powered by several determined industry stakeholders, but Alberta has the advantage of potentially piggybacking off Ontario’s framework to some degree, which should greatly assist in the creation of a new legal, and private, online gambling marketplace.

What’s next?

Several key figures in the potential launch of Alberta’s regulated igaming market are expected to be in attendance at June’s Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto, the largest annual gaming industry conference in Canada. AGLC CEO Kandice Machado is scheduled to participate in what should be a fascinating panel with other executives of provincial crown corporations to discuss key priorities for both present and future in the new gaming landscape, changing demographics and maturing markets to online gambling licensing and competition, and the issue of different enforcement mechanisms across Canada. Executives from the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, Loto-Quebec, and the Atlantic Lottery Corporation will also be participating in the panel, which is a very exciting development for the potential of even more provinces embracing private operators in the future.

A second panel is scheduled at the Summit to discuss Alberta’s igaming revolution and how the province’s regulatory model is expected to borrow many elements of the Ontario regime. The panel will examine how the results in Ontario assisted in the strategy to develop political support for a similar approach in Alberta and how these results may influence other Canadian provinces to consider a similar regulatory approach.

“As part of our policy development process, we will continue to examine best practices from other jurisdictions, including Ontario,” Gocuan explained to CSB. “In efforts to look at moving to a more open regulated online gaming market, a key priority is to ensure that any expanded igaming model in the province prioritizes the best interests of all Albertans.”

In short, many more details surrounding the potential creation and launch of Alberta’s igaming market should be available during the industry conference, which runs from June 18-20 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Local sports bettors will be anxious to learn how many private operators will potentially be allowed to operate in Alberta and which operators actually have an interest in entering the market. Many operators have already made significant investments in their Canadian operations after Ontario regulated its market and will surely be interested in servicing Alberta’s sports bettors as well.

Government, regulators to consult indigenous partners

Another interesting detail from Alberta’s annual budget is the government’s commitment to working with its indigenous gaming partners.

“Working with Indigenous partners, Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction is further committed to developing and implementing Alberta’s online gaming strategy, with a focus on responsible gaming and provincial and Indigenous revenue generation,” the budget reads.

Ontario didn’t consult its First Nations communities when developing the framework for its regulated igaming market, which launched in April 2022. That resulted in a legal challenge from the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke that aimed to abolish Ontario’s regulatory scheme, but the courts sided with iGaming Ontario and the Attorney General of Ontario on the matter and dismissed the challenge.

The province of Saskatchewan was commended for its unprecedented 50-50 revenue-sharing model in 2021 with the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, which launched a legal online gaming portal to co-exist alongside the Western Canadian Lottery Corporation’s betting products (Sport Select for sports betting). SIGA runs several brick-and-mortar casinos in the province, too, that have plans to open sportsbooks.

Alberta’s provincial government and the AGLC can draw from both of these precedents, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of a role First Nations end up having in the creation of the local regulated market.

“Alberta has expressed its intention to meet with all 47 First Nations and with the six First Nation casino operators. We look forward to meeting soon and gathering their feedback on igaming,” Gocuan told CSB.

Current online gambling structure

Currently, the only legal sports betting 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.

Local sports bettors still have access to several grey-market operators, though, and that puts their consumer protections at risk. The AGLC is part of a coalition of provincial gaming corporations that are working together to crack down on illegal gambling websites within Canada. Commerical gambling in Canada is illegal unless controlled by the various provincial governments. The coalition says hundreds of illegal gambling sites are operating in Canada.

Ontario has found that regulation has dramatically decreased the number of players in the province wagering with illegal sites. A recent Ipsos study revealed that 86% of Ontario’s online gamblers now play on regulated sites. Since its inception on April 4, 2022, Ontario’s igaming market has generated roughly $98.74 billion in total wagers and $3.845 billion in total gaming revenue while showing growth each quarter. Those numbers don’t include revenue generated from Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s online sports betting and iCasino products. Private operators pay roughly 20% of their revenues to the provincial government as a tax and there’s a $100,000 licensing fee that is due annually.

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.