The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation may have lost its legal monopoly on iGaming and sports betting in Ontario when the regulated market launched on April 4, but it’s still reporting strong volume numbers across the board despite competition from more than a dozen new operators.
Last week, OLG’s digital sportsbook PROLINE + took the most wagers it has seen since the launch, with the exception of Super Bowl week. Ontario teams have been a huge draw for the sportsbook, including the Toronto Raptors, who lost their playoff series in six games against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, are garnering massive betting and fan interest across the province and Canada with their World Series aspirations.
OLG, which is owned and run by the provincial government, was the only legal iGaming and sports betting provider in the province at the time Canada decriminalized single-event sports wagering last August. On April 4, however, the market was opened to new legal operators, giving consumers an array of sportsbooks and iCasino products to choose from. But OLG says its loyal customer base remains strong.
“Our performance has been steadily growing on the same trajectory that we’ve been seeing pre-launch,” said David Pridmore, OLG’s chief digital and strategy officer. “We have a pretty focused customer group that continues to play with PROLINE (retail betting) and PROLINE + (online) and we obviously want to take care of our core customers and introduce new customers to the product.”
The reality is that OLG had already been in competition with gray market operators in the province for several years. Bet365, which converted to the regulated market on April 4 after operating as a gray sportsbook in Ontario, already had an estimated market share of 35% across Canada prior to its regulated launch. Other operators, such as Pinnacle and Betway, are in the same situation as bet365 and have plans to also become regulated operators in the province in the near future.
“From an Ontario perspective, I think this is great,” Pridmore added. “There were a lot of illegal operators, and now that money can go to Ontario. From OLG’s perspective, we’ve always been in a competitive market [with gray operators]. Our world doesn’t change too much, other than we’re hyper-focused on delivering what our customers need.
“We’re always looking to improve ourselves. We’re the only entity that gives all of our profits back to the province. We continue to be proud of that as an organization and really proud of having a focus on responsible gaming.”
Improvements around regulated market launch
With legal competition now a reality, OLG has made some improvements to its PROLINE products over the past few months in order to remain competitive.
PROLINE + online users will notice new vertical stacks on betting line pages to make the customer interface more visually appealing and organized. Previously, the pages looked cluttered and confusing, especially to those new to sports betting and looking at lines for the first time.
The sportsbook has also been adding several new markets to the fold, most recently including NFL Draft props. It’s the first time PROLINE has offered props on the draft, with markets such as “Who Will Be The First Canadian Drafted?” and “Who Will Be The First To Be Drafted By The Buffalo Bills?”
The Bills, of course, have played a number of games in Ontario over the past decade and are the province’s adopted NFL team with a huge fan base. OLG is also the first official sportsbook partner of the NFL in Canada.
🚨 NFL Draft markets have arrived! 🚨
— PROLINE & PROLINE+ (@OLGproline) April 22, 2022
Upgrades were also made in February to PROLINE retail products. With over 10,000 retailers across the province offering PROLINE games, the revamped retail platform was expanded to include single-event wagering, more event offerings, dynamic odds, system bets, and novelty betting. Retail players also gained the opportunity to build their tickets using the new PROLINE Bet Builder App, which produces a barcode for quick and easy scanning at stores.
A significant portion of PROLINE players are still visiting retail locations across Ontario, despite the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Customers have been gravitating to the new way of betting with PROLINE + online, but I wouldn’t say we’ve seen any meteoric shifts in play patterns from retail,” said Pridmore. “People who are retail players, they have reasons for being a retail player, whether it’s convenience, wanting to not have an account and utilize cash — perhaps it’s part of a process where they’re purchasing their newspaper and a PROLINE ticket.”
Some of these changes weren’t well received by PROLINE retail players, who expressed frustration with discrepancies between the odds being offered online and in-store. There were also technical issues with bet slips created online that failed to scan properly at retail locations, and with stores having trouble printing multiple game lists.
Prior to single-event legalization, PROLINE launched in 1992 and bettors were limited to parlay wagering on the outcome of three to six events.
Basketball and fringe sports gain popularity
There’s no doubt that the NFL and NHL are the most popular sports leagues to bet on across Canada and Ontario, but a number of other sports are gaining traction. The top seven events from the past week at PROLINE + have all been basketball.
“The Philly and Toronto series has been huge for us for the last little while. Golden State and Denver’s playoff series has also been huge,” Pridmore said.
BetRivers, one of the regulated sportsbooks that launched in Ontario on April 4, also released data on its first week of betting activity in the province, and the NBA accounted for 36% of all handle. The Masters golf tournament was second at 17%, followed by MLB at 14%.
— gregwarrenBC (@GregwarrenBC) April 12, 2022
“We’ve been ecstatic to see a lot of heavy action on basketball and baseball,” Pridmore said. “In Ontario, there are fans of different teams all over the place in different cities and communities. Every time the [Canadian men’s soccer team was] getting closer to the World Cup, that was awesome for us — we got lots of action. Women’s hockey was also huge over the Olympics for us. That and curling were huge for us.”
OLG customers can expect some new developments in the coming months across all of its platforms.
First, more player props will be rolled out for upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs playoff hockey games, with a focus on in-game wagering. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin Monday, and Toronto’s first-round opponent is still to be determined. OLG is the NHL’s first official sportsbook partner in Canada and customers can expect more events and promotions in collaboration with the NHL in the future.
Secondly, there are plans to digitize the PROLINE Pools product, which is already available in retail locations. OLG is getting ready to update the app, so it can pivot from a retail bet builder to a fully transactional product.
Also, there are plans to add esports and other new sports to the PROLINE platforms. Details about those will be announced at a future date, as will additional partnership agreements.
OLG’s goal is to unify and satisfy its customers through all three of its platforms — lottery, iCasino, and sports betting. In Fiscal Year 2020–21, OLG’s lottery, land-based gaming, digital gaming, and charitable gaming lines of business collectively generated $4.8 billion in total proceeds. Lottery proceeds accounted for over $4.2 billion of the total proceeds, which was $3.5 billion (42%) less than the prior year, largely due to land-based gaming and charitable gaming site closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report for the most recent fiscal year that just ended March 31 should be forthcoming in September or October.
“We’ve had a great year on the digital side. Our customer base is significant,” Pridmore concluded.
“On the iCasino side, very strong. Three of our highest weeks ever for iCasino wagering are since April. I’m sure that’s a little because of general awareness of online gaming in the province. I’m sure everyone has seen an ad about online gaming in the last couple weeks,” he said with a laugh.
As of Friday, there were 23 operators licensed with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and 21 gaming sites live in the province.