Ontario to Launch Online Gaming, Sports Betting in April

Posted on: January 29, 2022, 08:08h. 

Last updated on: August 16, 2022, 11:28h.

A new era in Canadian gaming will start in just a couple of months. On Friday, officials in the province of Ontario announced that approved online casino and sports betting operators will be able to roll out their products starting in April 4.

Welcome to Ontario
Ontario officials unveil a new Welcome to Ontario sign in November 2018. Starting in April, Canada’s most populous province will begin welcoming legal online gaming operators. (Image: Ontario.ca)

The announcement was made by iGaming Ontario (iGO), a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (ACGO). Approved operators will need to sign off on an operating agreement with iGO before they will be able to launch.

“Consumers can be assured that companies who successfully enter the new Ontario market will have met rigorous standards of game and operator integrity, fairness, player protections, and social responsibility, allowing all players to play with confidence,” iGO Executive Director Martha Otton said in a statement.

The launch is expected to bring in several companies that have operated in licensed environments in the US. It’s possible that offshore operators that have existed in the current “gray market” environment will also be approved.

Ontario will be Canada’s biggest provincial market for iGaming and sports betting. It’s also one of the biggest in North America. With a population of 14.8 million, Ontario is larger than such US states as Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Responsible Gaming Practices a Priority

In order to be approved to offer online gaming in Ontario, operators must agree to follow the AGCO’s standards for online gaming. That includes becoming accredited through the Responsible Gaming Council’s RG Check initiative and maintaining that accreditation.

They must also execute “problem gambling prevention and responsible gambling campaigns” that strike a balance between promoting responsible play and promotional activities. They also must take part in a “centralized self-exclusion program” for bettors and share player data – stripped of all identifiable aspects – to help with research on problem and responsible gaming issues.

On Wednesday, Penn National Gaming said its Score Digital Sports Ventures, which operates theScore Bet app, received that designation.

“We elected to undergo RG Check Accreditation to ensure that we are positioned to deliver the best and safest possible experience for our players,” said Josh Sidsworth, theScore Bet’s general counsel and chief compliance officer. “It was important to us that we completed this accreditation ahead of theScore Bet’s launch in our home market of Ontario.”

After Ontario officials made their announcement, some gaming companies came forward to express their plans as well.

That included PointsBet’s Canadian division.

“Between our innovative, in-house technology platform that allows us to customize and tailor our app per the needs of the local consumer and introduce revolutionary in-game betting opportunities, as well as our unique partnerships deeply rooted in our nation’s sports, we will offer an unrivaled form of entertainment to Canadian sports bettors,” said Scott Vanderwel, CEO of PointsBet Canada in a statement.

Mixed Response Up North

The expansion into online gaming is an initiative that’s supported by the Canadian Gaming Association.

In a statement Friday, CGA President and CEO Paul Burns called the iGO new a “major milestone” for the province.

The move to establish a regulated iGaming market in this province will ensure that the people of Ontario have access to safe and legal gambling options online while encouraging investment and job creation in Ontario,” he said. “We finally have the opportunity to safeguard the economic benefits that will start to flow to licensed gaming operators and the provincial government.”

But not all in the Canadian gaming industry hailed the move.

Tony Rodio, CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., said in a statement Friday the company supports “iGaming in principal” and pledges to work with leaders in the provincial government to develop a system that offers “a level playing field” that benefits the entire province.

“Whether online or in-person, Great Canadian supports fair, competitive gaming rules, and unfortunately the current iGaming framework falls far short of that,” said Rodio, the former Caesars CEO. “We are disappointed by today’s decision, which puts thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in government revenue at risk in favor of jobless, offshore online gaming.”

Canadian Land-Based Gaming Struggles

Canada’s land-based casinos have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Whereas US casinos reopened after being shut down for just a couple of months, many casinos north of the 49th parallel did not reopen until last year.

And as the omicron variant has caused large spikes in cases, it’s led to more shutdowns in Canada. Ontario officials even ordered the land-based casinos to close again earlier this month, and just recently gave them the go-ahead to resume operations at half capacity starting on Monday.

That includes 14 GCGC gaming venues.

Now, Rodio said, the pending launch of online gaming comes as “workers have spent two years anxious about their ability to return to work and support their families.”