Northern Exposure: AGCO Bans WBA Wagering, Update On Ontario’s International Liquidity Dilemma

Each week, Canada Sports Betting recaps all the top sports betting and iGaming news in Canada and highlights upcoming events.

Our top stories this week

Event of the week – NHL Playoffs

The opening round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is well underway with all four Canadian teams competing getting a night off Thursday.

The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves down 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with the Boston Bruins with Game 4 set for Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. Toronto is a +225 underdog in the series, according to bet365.

Over in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks are evened up 1-1 in their series with the Nashville Predators heading into Game 3 on Friday. Vancouver is a -115 favourite to win the series (bet365) as the scene now shifts to Nashville.

The Winnipeg Jets are also at a game apiece in their series with the Colorado Avalanche. Winnipeg is a +140 underdog to prevail in the series as Colorado will host Game 3 on Friday.

And lastly, the Edmonton Oilers are even at 1-1 in their series with the Los Angeles Kings after losing 5-4 in overtime on Wednesday night. Edmonton is a big -185 favourite in that series heading into Game 3 in Los Angeles on Friday.

AGCO bans WBA bets

Last Thursday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the province of Ontario’s igaming regulator, initiated a wagering ban on World Boxing Association events amidst concerns about match-fixing and insider betting.

Specific concerns were raised by betting integrity monitors surrounding a title bout between Yoenis Tellez and Livan Navarro late last year, prompting the AGCO to investigate some suspicious betting activity. Tellez’s manager allegedly placed a $110,000 wager on the fight at a Florida casino and there was an unusual amount of money wagered on the bout to last more than 5 1/2 rounds.

“Ontarians who wish to bet on sporting events need to be confident that those events are fairly run, and that clear integrity safeguards are in place and enforced by an effective sport governing body. Knowing the popularity of boxing in Ontario, we look forward to reinstating betting on WBA events once appropriate safeguards against possible match-fixing and insider betting have been confirmed,” said AGCO Registrar and CEO Dr. Karin Schnarr in a press release.

This isn’t the first time the AGCO has initiated a wagering ban on a professional sports league. In December of 2022, the AGCO banned all wagering activity on UFC events due to integrity concerns and insider betting. Alberta’s sports betting regulator, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, also followed suit by temporarily banning wagering activity on the UFC. Both of these Canadian regulators lifted their respective bans on UFC wagering after the UFC revamped its gambling policy.

For now, all licensed online sports betting operators in Ontario must adhere to the AGCO’s demands to pull down WBA betting markets or they’ll face potential discipline.

New Quebec Coalition study

On Tuesday, the Quebec Online Gaming Coalition (QOGC), which is comprised of eight online gambling operators and suppliers advocating for regulated igaming in Quebec, released a new study ahead of Loto-Quebec’s expenditure reviews with the intent to prove the financial benefits of adopting such an online gaming market using Ontario as a reference point.

The coalition enlisted the help of chartered accounting firm Mallette to demonstrate the model’s profitability. Some of the examples include:

  • After expenses, revenue for the various levels of government, including the federal government, was $230 million.
  • The revenue generated by iGO for the Ontario government is at least $145 million per year.
  • In fiscal year 2022-2023, iGaming Ontario’s first year of operation, Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) revenue from online gaming increased by 31%.
  • For any government, the sum of $145 million ($96 million iGO and $49 million GST) is considerable revenue, bearing in mind that this is new revenue and not additional taxation of taxpayers.

The coalition says it’s offering the Quebec government a concrete solution to counter the impact of the budget deficit, and to implement a model that is unique to Québec with the potential to generate economic benefits similar to those in Ontario.

Currently, Loto-Quebec, a crown corporation, is the only legal provider of igaming in the province and the Quebec government has been heavily opposed to adopting a regulated igaming market.

Ontario is the only Canadian province to implement a model which involves private operators, but there has been recent interest from the Alberta government in potentially launching a market similar to Ontario’s.

Rivalry partners with Basketball Forever

Rivalry, a licensed igaming operator in Ontario, announced Wednesday it has partnered with Basketball Forever on a Gen Z-focused media campaign coinciding with this year’s NBA Playoffs.

The operator plans to utilize Basketball’s Forever’s array of multimedia channels to target the next generation of basketball fans using animated shorts, data-driven storytelling, and social influencers. Basketball Forever has an audience of 110 million unique monthly users.

“Gen Z consumers aren’t engaging with media and sports in the same way that older generations have in the past,” said Grant Flannery, global head of marketing at Rivalry. “We’ve partnered with Basketball Forever to develop culturally relevant content on platforms where Gen Z fans are consuming their entertainment and positioning Rivalry’s brand deeper within NBA culture.”

Primarily known for its comprehensive esports offerings, Rivalry also offers its own unique iCasino and sports betting products. The operator was also one of the first to launch in Ontario’s regulated igaming market in April 2022.

PointsBet/NHL Alumni Association

The NHL Alumni Association is suing PointsBet for $1.1 million for breach of contract, TSN’s Rick Westhead reported last week.

PointsBet recently ended its partnership with the NHL Alumni Association after the AGCO revised some of its rules surrounding advertising, essentially banning the use of active or former professional athletes to promote the products of private operators unless they’re delivering a responsible gambling message.

The Alumni Association says PointsBet is obligated to continue paying for the sponsorship through Jan. 1, 2026. The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 18 at the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, according to Westhead.

“What’s most interesting to me is that (allegedly, according to the article) PointsBet Canada is relying on the “force majeure” provisions of the agreement to terminate,” wrote Canadian igaming lawyer Jack Tadman on his LinkedIn page. “PointsBet Canada is taking the position that the changes to The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario Registrar’s Standards that prohibited athletes from being in gaming advertisements (unless it is a responsible gambling ad) constitute a “force majeure event”.”

“I’m surprised there was no provision allowing for termination when a law or regulatory change has a material impact on the performance of the agreement,” Tadman continued. “It’s a standard-ish clause, particularly in gaming contracts.”

PointsBet formed a partnership with the NHL Alumni in January of 2022 ahead of the launch of Ontario’s regulated igaming market with the intent of using the former NHL players to promote its products.

Shawn Lemon suspended indefinitely for gambling

Another major gambling scandal is rocking a North American sports league.

Former CFL defensive lineman Shawn Lemon has been suspended indefinitely by the league for wagering on CFL games, the league announced Wednesday.

The CFL says an investigation revealed Lemon, who announced his retirement earlier this month, bet on games in 2021, when single-event betting became legal in Canada, while playing with the Calgary Stampeders. However, there was no evidence to suggest that any games were impacted by Lemon’s wagering.

The league didn’t announce which sportsbook or casino Lemon placed his CFL wagers with.

“The integrity of our game is of the utmost importance. Any other factors – career performance, actions in the community, timing, frequency or size of wagers – hold no weight when the legitimacy of the CFL can be called into question,” said CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a press release.

“It is our responsibility as a league to investigate and address such abnormalities, and it is our collective duty, along with our teams and players, to ensure that sports wagering in no way impacts the quality nor standing of the CFL. We will continue to work with our authorized gaming operators, partners and stakeholders to hold our game to the highest standard.”

Lemon played 13 seasons in the CFL and was a three-time CFL Grey Cup champion.

The news comes on the heels of other major betting scandals relating to Jontay Porter of the Toronto Raptors and baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, among others.

CGA applies for intervenor status on the issue of international liquidity

The Canadian Gaming Association, a national trade association that works to advance the evolution of Canada’s gaming industry, has filed for intervenor status on a recently filed reference question with the Ontario Court of Appeal to seek clarity on the issue of international liquidity outside of Canada as it relates to daily fantasy sports and online poker.

Last month, the Ontario government announced its plan to further investigate the legality of allowing Ontario players to participate in online games and betting with other players outside of the jurisdiction, as described in the Criminal Code (Section 207(1)(a)).

The CGA says the hearing to consider the applications of intervenors will be held on May 1 and the consideration of the question by the Court of Appeals will be heard in November. Five other applications were filed in addition to the CGA’s on the matter by Flutter Entertainment (FanDuel, PokerStars), NSUS Group Inc. (GG Poker), Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke, the province of British Columbia, and the Canadian Lottery Coalition (BCLC, ALC, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and Lotteries & Gaming Saskatchewan.

Ontario’s regulated igaming market essentially killed local DFS and online poker in April 2022 due to new restrictions surrounding liquidity. Popular DFS operators like FanDuel and DraftKings elected to halt their DFS operations in Ontario as a result.

Depending on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision, it’s possible that DFS and online poker operators could pool Ontario players with other international jurisdictions (but not with other provinces) to enhance prizes and pools. This could entice large DFS operators, like FanDuel and DraftKings, to offer their games to Ontario residents again.