Operators prepare for Ontario’s online gambling market to open on Monday

TORONTO — Operators have high hopes for the launch of iGaming Ontario, as Canada’s largest province becomes the first jurisdiction to take bets in a legal private online gaming marketplace.

Starting Monday, Ontarians will be able to wager on casino games, sporting events and other gambling activities through online websites and smartphone apps from operators registered to conduct business on the provincially regulated market.

Twenty-five operators were registered with iGaming Ontario as of Friday.

Not all sites will launch immediately and the number of participating operators is expected to grow, according to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which regulates the industry. Those considering taking bets have stepped up advertising to reach potential users ahead of launch.

Sports betting site PointsBet Canada ramped up its marketing campaign ahead of the market opening at midnight Monday.

Curling Canada and other Canadian teams are partners with PointsBet, and the company is working with the Trailer Park Boys on a series of videos and online ads – a notable choice, as the Ontario regulator doesn’t allow ads with celebrities who have a primary audience of minors. Comedy group Canuck is also set to host an in-person VIP launch party for the venue in Toronto.

Patrick Eichner, a PointsBet spokesperson, said the Ontario launch is significant for the company which is already online in several US states with legalized online gambling.

“For all intents and purposes, you’re launching a country,” he said. “Ontario is going to serve as both a foundation and a Mecca of Canadian sports betting, so you have to give that first impression and be strong from the start.”

Online gambling already existed in Ontario, primarily in the form of gray market websites operating outside of Canada and also through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which launched its bookmaker Proline+ last summer after the federal government legalized single-event sports betting.

The province said its regulated online gambling market will help “protect consumers and provide choice.” There’s also the factor of potentially lucrative revenue from the growing market, although the province has yet to provide a figure for projected revenue.

PointsBet Canada has a Canadian team of around 50 people, Eichner said.

Richard Schwartz, CEO of Rush Street Interactive’s BetRivers, said the company has also hired 50 people in Toronto for its Ontario operations. The launch is also significant for his business, as it is the largest jurisdiction in North America to legalize online casinos.

The online casino and sports betting site aired commercials on Canadian television during the Winter Olympics featuring former TSN anchor Dan O’Toole in a bid to familiarize local customers with the brand, which Schwartz says never operated in the country before the regulations.

“I think it put us on the map in Ontario, which was important for us, because … we started with no awareness whatsoever,” he said.

Canadian brand theScore Bet has also rolled out advertisements online, featuring recognizable actors from TV shows Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. The company was also planning a weekend of Saturday-Monday night launch parties for fans in Toronto.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government has not included any projected revenue from iGaming Ontario in its revenue forecast, but more information may be available when the province files its annual budget, expected this month. Some other sources have predicted revenues of up to $800 million in the market’s first year.

However, land-based casino operators and trade unions have expressed some concern that the new online market will impact income and jobs at their sites if they are taxed at a higher rate and lose money. clients.

A report prepared by HLT Advisory for Great Canadian Gaming, the province’s largest casino operator, projected the possibility of thousands of job losses and $2.8 billion in lost revenue at land-based casinos over the five years after the opening of the online market.

The findings stoked some fears among casino owners, unions and opposition politicians, who questioned government politicians in pre-budget consultations about their plans to offset potential losses from casinos that have been hit during the pandemic.

Bethlenfalvy spokeswoman Emily Hogeveen said in a statement that the iGaming framework “will complement the land-based gaming business, not take it away, providing new opportunities for land-based gaming operators to diversify their offerings and cross-promote between online and land-based gaming sites.”

The province is also taking steps to offset the potential harms of gambling.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has set harm reduction standards for operators, including the requirement that sites have a mechanism to monitor players for “being harmed”. Operators must also display “responsible gambling messages”, access to 24-hour help resources. There are also rules that prohibit advertisements aimed at minors or misleading advertisements.

Nigel Turner, an independent scientist with the Center for Addiction and Mental Health who has studied gambling problems for decades, said there are “pros and cons” to legalizing online gambling.

It is possible that more people will become addicted to behaviors such as gambling as availability increases, he said. At the same time, people are already gambling online and legalization allows for more checks and balances.

After the market launch, Turner said he would monitor calls to helpline numbers and statistics on people seeking treatment, and how websites present health service information.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 3, 2022.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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