How Ontario Sports Betting Will Influence The Canadian Market

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On July 6, 2021, Ontario announced the creation of iGaming Ontario, a new subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario that will manage internet gaming for Ontario. It’s the first of many moves Ontario will make as it launches single-event sports betting. Canada’s parliament passed Bill C-218, which lifted the ban on single-event sports betting in Canada. After Bill C-218 received the Royal Assent, Canada’s provinces took steps toward getting single-event sports betting up and running. But Ontario is shaping up to be the first to get it done.

Why Single-Event Sports Betting Is So Important

Before Bill C-218 passed, Canadians’ only legal sports betting options were government-run parlay bet generators. Experienced bettors will know that six to eight-leg parlays aren’t the most reliable ways to bet. Moneylines, point spreads, and over/unders comprise the core of any sports bettor’s bet slip. So, Canadians sought illegal and unregulated alternatives to parlay bets. In Ontario alone, bettors spent almost $1 billion per year on sports betting. Bettors made 70% of those wagers at illegal sportsbooks, fueling a gray market of unregulated sportsbooks.

Unregulated sportsbooks lack the guardrails that legitimize licensed sportsbooks. Licensed sportsbooks are often required to keep a minimum amount of cash on hand to pay winners. Licensed sportsbooks also depend on regulators for market access. If a licensed sportsbook doesn’t pay its bettors what they’re owed, then those sportsbooks can have their gaming licenses revoked. That removes their market access and threatens its access to other markets it operates in too. Licensed sportsbooks have a lot to lose by operating poorly. Combined market and government pressures ensure licensed sportsbooks are safe for bettors to use.

And Canada finally gets to bring these competitive options to Canadian bettors.

Why Ontario And British Columbia Are The Provinces To Watch

In an interview with theScore Senior VP of Marketing and Content, Aubrey Levy, Levy discussed what Bill C-218’s passage meant for theScore. theScore is positioned to become Canada’s largest sportsbook, with a history going back to a Canadian television station in the 90s. As it expanded into sports betting, it’s had its eye on Canadian sports betting reform for years. Now that it’s arrived, theScore plans to move in aggressively and secure market dominance in its home country.

They’re eyeing Ontario first because it seems to be the one that’ll get sports betting live for sportsbook operators the quickest. Ontario is busy creating a regulatory framework similar to competitive U.S. sports betting markets where competition among sportsbooks is encouraged. According to Levy, Ontario alone could comprise 40-45% of Canada’s sports betting market, making it a critical province to succeed in.

However, Ontario may not be the first province to offer single-event sports betting. British Columbia plans to add single-event wagers to its sports betting service, PlayNow.com. After Bill C-218’s passage, adding single-event betting to a pre-existing service isn’t hard. However, it’ll take British Columbia months to create a regulatory body for sportsbooks like DraftKings, FanDuel, and theScore Bet. British Columbians may get sports betting sooner, but they won’t get multiple sportsbooks to choose from until much later.

When Private Sportsbooks Could Come To Canada

While British Columbia may offer single-event sports betting first, Ontario may be the first to create a sports betting industry analogous to U.S. states like Michigan. Levy predicted that Ontario would be first and would be one of the largest markets in Canada. That has made Ontario a juicy target for major sportsbook operators looking for new footholds in new countries. Ontario’s government recognizes this too and is anxious to attract those companies.

Ontario anticipates launching single-event sports betting during the 2021-2022 NFL season. That promises a quick launch and even quicker bureaucratic work behind the scenes to make it happen.

But Ontario’s single-event sports betting launch has significance beyond NFL betting. According to Levy, other provinces are watching to see how Ontario’s sportsbook industry turns out. He expects other provinces to model their sports betting regulations after Ontario.

However, the other provinces could dive into sports betting regulations faster than anticipated. They may want to bring theScore Bet, DraftKings, and FanDuel into their provinces before waiting to see how Ontario goes. Whatever their launches look like, Canadian provinces seem enthusiastic about long-awaited sports betting reform.

Canada’s Sports Betting Future

While Ontario and British Columbia are likely the two provinces to watch the most closely, they’re not the whole picture. Alberta has indicated an interest in getting single-event sports wagering up quickly. Canada’s eight other provinces also want to generate revenue from a newly legal industry.

However, there’s still regulatory groundwork to be laid. Allowing sportsbooks to operate by the start of the NFL season would get legal sports betting off to a strong start in Canada. But while football season is a revenue driver in Canada, hockey commands a following unparalleled in North America. When the next NHL season starts–barring new COVID restrictions–in October, Canadian sportsbooks could generate revenue from two major leagues at once. Even if Ontario misses an early fall launch, getting sportsbooks online by December would still guarantee large revenues for legal sportsbooks.

And of course, sizable tax revenues for Ontario.

Now that standard game lines are available, Canada can offer its bettors competitive sports betting options. It can combat the illegal sportsbooks that Canadians have flocked to for so long. Canada can also profit from a popular activity that’s spent decades in the shadows. It can build a sports betting industry that rivals some U.S. states and bring sports betting revenue back from overseas. It’ll be an exciting journey for Canada to travel over the next few months until launch and the subsequent years of growth.

About the Author

Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a senior author and contributor for Gaming Today. He's a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, Colorado.

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