The Experts That Wagered on Ontario Now Weigh Its Impact

With predictions of it becoming one of the largest online gaming marketplaces in the next three years, we spoke to Antonino Barra (AB), Head of Sales at Altenar, John-Paul Rowland (JPR), VP Europe, Asia & Americas at BetGames and Nadiya Attard (NA), CCO at Relax Gaming about the impact Ontario will generate. What has made

With predictions of it becoming one of the largest online gaming marketplaces in the next three years, we spoke to Antonino Barra (AB), Head of Sales at Altenar, John-Paul Rowland (JPR), VP Europe, Asia & Americas at BetGames and Nadiya Attard (NA), CCO at Relax Gaming about the impact Ontario will generate.

What has made you decide to launch in the Ontario market? 

Antonino Barra (AB): Prior to the legalisation of single-game betting, it was estimated that Ontarians spent close to $1 billion per year on internet gambling. With more possibilities than ever before owing to regulatory reforms, that figure is certainly expected to rise.

What makes the market particularly interesting is that Ontario’s iGaming business is expected to produce $1.5 billion in revenue by 2026, making it one of the largest online gaming marketplaces in North America. Furthermore, new rules have made the sector incredibly competitive, with an annual tax rate of roughly 20%, one of the lowest in the world, making it very appealing to online gambling businesses.

In conclusion, if we consider that the country’s gambling community totals something like 20 million active gamers – being home to more than one-third of Canada’s population – Ontario can be considered the cornerstone of the Canadian market. So I have no doubt that it’s a really interesting GEO to foresee operations for any bookmaker out there.

John-Paul Rowland (JPR): We’re not live there yet, but we’ve got big plans! With Twain Sport, we’re expecting to launch with multiple tier-one partners in April this year. So, watch this space.

The first factor was its host of big-name operator brands. In effect by launching there, we’re covering 60% of the Canadian betting market. Secondly, and this one that really should be commended, the Ontario regulator (which is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario), has an incredibly friendly regulatory framework for European companies looking to enter the Canadian market, which makes it a very attractive proposition and conducive for good business.

With that of course is also our ethos towards our big-brand partners. At the end of the day, Twain Sport offers a one-of-kind live sports betting experience with fast-paced action, so wherever our partners see the potential to engage and entertain, we’ll go with them.

Nadiya Attard (NA): With sights set on Ontario from the beginning, Relax was quick to act and amongst the first to enter the market back in April 2022. The Canadian jurisdiction has traditionally been a very strong market so we were keen to take advantage of the flexible Ontario regulation process. As with every new market, they experienced some teething issues but they were overcome in due time. Now the market is growing and growing quickly.

How does the market in Ontario differ from others you have a foothold in?

JPR: Ontario is a unique market with fantastic potential. For a start, you’ve got all the major brands there from US casinos, including Caesars, BetMGM and WynnBet, as well as the Gods of fantasy sports, FanDuel and DraftKings, which not only makes it very diverse – but also a very different market from Europe, LatAm or Africa, which are key markets for us.

In line with that, is the composition of the audience and preferences towards sport. With NFL, NBA and NHL taking up the majority of sports spend, this makes it a unique place that holds few parallels to all our other major global locations. As already mentioned, the demographics and audience are also very different, with a real demand for fast-action entertainment, so it’s very exciting for us.  

AB: Unlike many other markets and GEOs, gaming in Canada has expanded unabated by the government for decades even if a regulatory framework was not yet clearly defined. This helped operators of different tiers to pioneer the market before its full regulation in 2022 and achieve a solid foothold within the province. 

Now that it’s regulated, Ontario has created a one-of-a-kind market. Rather than just issuing licences to operators, the Ontario government established iGaming Ontario, which grants market access in a novel manner. Operators are provided access to Ontario’s iGaming industry as private contractors operating on behalf of the government entity through iGaming Ontario. This implies that each operator collaborates with iGO, allowing both sides to have a say in the development of the iGaming industry.

Is there anything that you would change about the current regulation within the Ontario market?

NA: As things stand, I can’t fault the current regulation. In my opinion, the Ontario market is a leading example to other budding markets. So far, it’s been incredibly flexible, fair and not complex to navigate through. From our experience, the regulation process creates a level playing field, prioritising quality over local/international roots. This cultivates a healthy environment for innovation and gives exposure to those who deserve it. Here’s hoping other markets take a leaf out of their book.

AB: Ontario’s iGaming opportunity appears to be highly promising in terms of income, while also providing a high level of client protection and stringent controls. Nonetheless, the market will have to perform as expected, as it will have to demonstrate that increase security and customer protection initiatives are worthwhile and feasible. This needs to happen while also remaining lucrative, especially for European operators planning to enter during this boom.

JPR: As we covered in the first answer, I think the Ontario regulator is very on the ball with a strong framework in place. A good example of this would be their recent blocking of UFC, as there was a real fear towards integrity with suspicious betting activity. Of course, this shows both their pro-activity and focus on ensuring they provide the best (and safest) gaming environment possible for their players.

Secondly, they’ve also avoided going down the road of not dishing out excessive fines (without mentioning any European counterparts in comparison). Again, I see this as indicative that we have a free and fair regulatory environment with a framework that is very conducive towards new entrants, as well as being very welcoming to new brands coming in from overseas.

How do you see the Ontario market a year from now?

AB: According to a release from advocacy organisation iGaming Ontario, bettors spent more than $8.6 billion ($11.5 CDN) with licensed digital casino, sportsbook, and poker businesses in the third quarter of the province’s fiscal year 2022, a 91% increase from the province’s second fiscal quarter.

Over the same year, total gaming income climbed by 71% to $342 million ($457 million CDN). This amount comprises all total cash wagers, including rake, tournament and other fees, and fewer player earnings from cash wagers, according to the study.

In Q3 2022, 36 different operators took bets in the province, which is 50% higher than in Q2. These firms combined to run 68 unique regulated gambling sites, a 68% increase from the preceding quarter.

These are the greatest totals for both operators and sites in any regulated gambling market on the continent, and trends show a clear path ahead for constant progression during the next five years.

NA: A lot of US companies are launching in Ontario so this will prove to be a key stepping stone for brands to get to grips with the diverse North American market. As a result of this, there should be sharp growth in the region’s online offering both in the content provision space as well as the operator arena.

JPR: I see it thriving; it has excellent potential. Just like any ecosystem, we’ll no doubt have a natural lifecycle, with brands leaving the market, but also new, dynamic names with innovative ideas and approaches coming in, which will keep competition healthy. 

Also, as we’ve touched on previously, Ontario (and indeed Canada) has a very unique audience and set of betting preferences. I’m very interested to see how the regulated market evolves over time as betting habits and choices of sports develop.

Where else is there in Canada that could compete with Ontario should the opportunity present itself?

JPR: If we take a step back and look at demographics, the short answer would be no. Roughly 60% of Canada’s population is Ontario, so it would be very difficult to compete with in terms of size of the audience.

British Columbia perhaps could, but it’s only a third of the size when it comes to population, Quebec also is a national lottery, which makes it an unlikely candidate for innovation given the lack of competition. Alberta’s the last, but again, even if you added the three provinces together by way of population, that’s only 40% in total compared to Ontario’s 60%. That’s not to say we wouldn’t take the opportunity if it presented itself. For now, though, we’re very happy with calling Ontario our new home in Canada and taking it from there.

NA: With Ontario being the biggest province in terms of gaming in Canada, it presents a fantastic opportunity for other provinces in the country to see the positive impact that online gaming and betting have had. The opportunities across the country are plentiful and it wouldn’t surprise me to see others look to follow suit.

AB: According to VIXIO Gambling Compliance forecasts, Canada’s online gambling industry may reach $5.8 billion by 2026 with just minor online sports betting liberalisation in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

If I would have to bet, Alberta might be the next province to adopt some form of the competitive model, having already issued a solicitation for proposals to pick two commercial operators to compete with its PlayAlberta’s offering.

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