Ontario will come onside with many other markets when it opens up to regulated online gambling in April 2022. iGaming Ontario, which is a subsidiary of the province’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission has announced that its regulated iGaming market will be open for business on April 4th.
The operators have had to apply for gaming licences, and it has not been without controversy who these licenses have been granted to. A last-minute lobbying attempt was launched by the Great Canadian Gaming Company earlier in the year. They wanted existing bricks and mortar casinos to have a two-year exclusive window on internet gaming to prevent the international operators from getting a foothold
There is no doubt that the potential of this market is going to be very attractive to the online operators. The main draw is simply the size of Ontario’s population. At almost 14.5 million people it is the equivalent of the US’s fifth-largest state, bigger than Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. The online casino platforms are having considerable success across the USA as more states open up to regulated online gambling. When you consider the population of New Jersey is considerably smaller than Ontario’s (with just over 9 million people) and know the success of the online gambling industry there, it becomes apparent why the operators are focusing on Ontario. Even relatively small West Virginia with under 2 million people saw WV online casinos generate considerable traffic through the five regulated casinos in the state.
Canada has a chequered history with gambling and for a long time, it has been illegal everywhere unless it was run by territorial or provincial authorities. These authorities now run major lotteries and casinos (both physical and online). However, for some time, there has been a multitude of gambling websites accessible to Canadians that operate in a grey, unregulated market. The province has realised that it is missing out on important tax revenues and is hoping that it can encourage people to switch to the new, regulated sites. It also aims to impose safe gambling standards and bring in anti-money laundering policies.
The owners of the Woodbine and Pickerings casinos Great Canadian commissioned a report late last year. In this, they concluded that the new regulated market for online casinos would lead to a loss of tax revenues and casino jobs. Their CEO, Tony Rodio, was concerned that the new regime fell far short of offering fair and competitive gaming rules.
This was obviously not a view shared by the iGaming Commission.
The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is not happy with the decision and says that it will be challenging Ontario’s iGaming scheme through the courts. The Auditor-General had warned last year that this new model was probably going to be subject to legal battles.
The First Nation run Great Blue Heron Casino is situated in what is now Port Perry. They say that the government went ahead without holding formal and meaningful consultations with Indigenous governments on the impact of the scheme which has been announced. They say it is a slap in the face to the First Nations.
However, the online operators welcomed the news. Toronto based Rivalry Corp which has a gaming license from The Isle of Man and already operates in other markets has applied to become a licensed operator in the province. Their CEO Steven Salz said that he was excited to be able to offer Ontario’s residents safe, regulated internet gaming.
It does appear that the existing operators are concerned that the opening up of the market to new players will threaten their existing market which is based around physical casinos. What has been seen in other markets throughout the world is that online casinos do not necessarily impact bricks and mortar ones but that they open up new opportunities to people who like to game and gamble from home on PCs and mobile devices.