A new Ontario lottery will shortly make the Canadian province the fifth to launch a fully regulated online gambling platform, with the announcement that PlayOLG.ca, operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), is to launch “in the coming weeks.”
PlayOLG.ca is already available to the 50,000-odd players of OLG’s Circle Rewards Program, who were emailed on earlier this week and asked to offer feedback ahead of official launch. The site will initially have a selection of slot games and table games, such as video poker and roulette, as well as lottery products. These will be joined in the future by poker, bingo and sports betting.
It’s been a long road to regulation for Ontario, which first announced its intention to offer online gaming back in 2010 as an extra source of revenue to plug the budget deficit.
The so-called “gray market” has a huge customer-base in Canada, which has traditionally turned a blind eye to its citizens gambling on offshore sites, but Ontario believes it is losing out as a result. With an estimated half-million Ontarians gambling regularly on sites like PokerStars (recently acquired, of course, by Toronto-based Amaya), that’s somewhere between $400 million to $500 million in lost gross revenue that could be siphoned into government coffers, according to OLG.
Appetite for Regulation
While spokesman Tony Bitoni clearly doesn’t believe a giant like PokerStars can be toppled overnight, he says that OLG’s market research shows that there is an appetite for “trusted” government-regulated gaming.
“PlayOLG has a unique offer as the only regulated site in Ontario,” he says, adding that customers know winnings will always be paid out, just like lottery tickets are.
PlayOLG is expected to generate $375 million in tax revenue within its first five years of operation. “As a new line of business, PlayOLG will provide more money to the Government of Ontario for hospitals and other government priorities,” says a press release.
OLG had initially hoped that the site would launch in 2012; the delay, says Bitoni, has been largely down to the strict implementation of responsible gambling features within the technology. For example, as well as having stringent age-verification procedures, PlayOLG will require players to set weekly deposit limits and time limits for how long they gamble, and a limit on the amount of lottery tickets they can buy.
Making it Right
PlayOLG will also use data analysis to monitor high levels and contact players it considers to be at high risk of gambling addiction. Self-assessment test and risk profiling will also be made available to users to allow them to determine whether their gambling habits are healthy.
“We wanted to make this right,” said Bitonti, adding that Ontario closely studied the challenges faced by other provinces that had adopted online gaming and incorporated lessons learned.
The Canadian government ceded the right to offer lotteries and games of chance to the provincial governments in the 1960s. Currently, British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, and all of the Atlantic provinces already offer online gaming.
Meanwhile, around 50 online gambling companies are licensed in Kahnawake, a reserve of the Mohawk Nation in Quebec, by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has stated that it is part of their “aboriginal rights,” which have existed since time immemorial, to regulate online gaming on their land. It is a stance that has never been questioned by the Canadian government.