Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, hosted a virtual webinar Wednesday on the future of the sports betting landscape in the province. Dr. Michael Naraine, a sport management professor at the university, moderated a panel that included Amanda Brewer from Kindred Group and Nic Sulsky from PointsBet Canada.
Brewer, country manager, Canada, for Kindred Group, and Sulsky, chief commercial officer of PointsBet Canada, debated many hot topics surrounding the launch of the regulated market, including advertising restrictions, the gray market, and responsible gaming.
“Ontario is such a kickass model. … Ontario is saying we’ll give you almost every single sports betting product, so DFS, eSports, live in-game wagering, and you get to offer iGaming if you want, and you don’t have to tether, so full credit to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission. They did a lot of studying, consulted with a lot of different jurisdictions,” commended Brewer, who spent years lobbying for a regulated market as a senior advisor with the Canadian Gaming Association.
The AGCO and iGaming Ontario are tasked with developing the legal framework for Ontario’s regulated iGaming market and are processing roughly 30 applications for licenses to operate in the province. PointsBet Canada was one of the first private operators to announce it’s been fully licensed in the province, along with theScore Bet and Rivalry. Brewer said Unibet, a Kindred brand, will also be announcing its license shortly, and there could be plans for 32Red, another Kindred brand, to also pursue a license.
The licensing fee to participate in Ontario’s market is just $100,000, a far cry from the $25 million fee private operators had to pay to jump into the New York state market. Unlike New York’s unprecedented 51% tax rate on private operators, Ontario’s operators will pay a 20% tax rate.
“You want to make the barrier of entry not super difficult, because you want as many of those operators to come in and get a license as possible,” Brewer said. “You want to make sure you’re keeping the barrier of entry low enough that everyone can come in and get a license here.”
Sulsky somewhat opposed her view on this issue.
“At the same time, the lower the barrier of entry, the more likelihood an operator will get in that doesn’t have above-board intentions as humanly possible,” he commented.
Strict sports betting advertising restrictions are in place currently throughout the province. Private operators can advertise on company landing pages and websites and use direct marketing tactics to attract customers. There can’t be any incentive-based marketing, so TV commercials advertising a deposit match or free bet will be prohibited. There needs to be a level of consent before an operator is allowed to market real-money offers to potential users.
Private operators also can’t use cartoon characters for advertising that could be appealing to children.
“You can’t give people the impression their lives will be magically transformed by opening up a sports betting account or any kind of gaming account,” Brewer noted. “There are a lot of checks and balances in place in terms of the marketing and advertising just to make sure this is done as responsibly as possible.”
The most popular tool any operator has to draw in customers is to give free money, according to Sulsky. Deposit bonuses, free bets, and deposit matches are all effective at drawing players to platforms. He says most sports bettors have between three and five apps on their phone. “Once you get in a sports bettor’s rotation, then the best product will win out,” he said.
PointsBet Canada has made several strategic partnerships with the Trailer Park Boys, the NHL Alumni Association, Curling Canada, and Alpine Canada in an attempt to appeal to the local Ontario market. Perhaps the most influential and notable partner for private operators is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, and Toronto Argonauts, among others. “MLSE is not taken yet,” Sulsky noted.
Brewer and Sulsky agreed there’s not enough market share for the 30 companies vying for the sports betting dollars in the province. The market will narrow in order for it to be sustainable for everyone.
“Consolidation is going to happen. Folks are either going to fail or get acquired,” Brewer said.
The gray market
There was $14 billion of illegal and gray and offshore wagering last year in Canada, according to Sulsky. The goal of private operators entering the Ontario market is to convert as much of those betting dollars as possible into the legal market, but it’ll be a tough task.
Gray market sportsbooks, which have been taking bets from Canadians for years while operating offshore, have a head start on the rest of the field and already boast large player databases. The market is already mature in Canada because of these gray sportsbooks and the ongoing operation of PROLINE +, a provincially run sports betting platform that launched Aug. 27 through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
“In Ontario, because of the pre-existing gray market, there are dozens of operators that already have databases. A number of U.S. operators that have yet to enter Canada from a sports betting perspective already have DFS databases, poker databases,” added Sulsky, whose company doesn’t have any existing player database in the province.
In 🇺🇸 FanDuel was able to convert their millions of DFS players in to single game sports bettors
I'm not sure theScore Bet will be able to have the same success converting people from their news app to betting
10%+ is ambitious https://t.co/6lnj20rGlJ
— Adam Seaborn (@AHBSeaborn) February 3, 2022
“We can all buy the same research reports. We know that Bet365 and Betway have the vast majority of the market share [in Ontario], and Kindred, PointsBet, and theScore and a whole bunch of others are trying to come in,” Brewer said. “We’re in here for the long haul, here to make a commitment to this market.”
Companies like Bet365 will have to apply for an Ontario license by April 4 and will then be required to convert their existing players to new, legal accounts in Ontario. These gray companies should be able to retain their existing customers relatively easily using existing player databases, and could offer promotions to players to entice them to open new Ontario accounts.
Brewer cautions that gray market operators attempting to do business in the province without a license could risk losing their licenses in other markets, as the AGCO could notify other jurisdictions that the book is operating as an illegal bookmaker in Ontario.
“Psychologically, what we’re trying to do is get somebody excited about betting on April 4,” Sulsky said of PointsBet Canada. “The difference is, in Ontario, is people can bet right now. The last thing I want to do is convince somebody that betting is going to be a lot of fun. Because they’ll go to Bet365 and bet now.”
Brewer and Sulsky anticipate the market will include a mix of experienced bettors already wagering with gray market operators and new sports bettors trying it out for the first time. There will be varying levels of interest, and Brewer even admitted to being curious about trying her hand at some live, in-game wagering when the market opens, possibly with the PointsBet Canada platform.
“What I’m losing sleep over is my excitement for April 4,” Sulsky said. “I know what’s coming. I’m already prepared for how this day is going to be. I’m not scared. I’m excited. I just want the market to open already because I’m sick of watching all the same ads from the same crappy operators we’ve been watching for the last year.”
With an influx of at least 30 operators into the Ontario sports betting market on April 4, an emphasis on responsible gaming will be essential to the long-term success of the market. Regulators are prohibiting the promotion of bonuses or sign-up offers in a public forum, such as billboards and social media platforms like Twitter or TikTok.
Responsible gaming programs being rolled out by private sportsbooks can include weekly deposit limits, voluntary exclusions, and age and identity verification, among other measures. Ontario regulations state self-exclusion program will be universal, so if you report yourself as a problem gambler, you won’t be able to open or use accounts with any of the operators across Ontario.
AGCO Releases Final Registrar's Standards Including Sports Betting – https://t.co/t8ND1nE0gr
— Canadian Gaming Association (@CanadianGaming) September 9, 2021
“What concerns me is some of the smaller operators who won’t take the consumer protections and responsible gaming — and the rules and regulations that we are all going to adhere by — as seriously as others, to try and potentially do things [that wouldn’t] positively impact the Canadian sports ecosystem the way we all want it to be. This is why you are seeing a lot of other Canadian provinces wait [to open their markets]. They’re waiting to see what happens in Ontario,” Sulsky said.
The onus will be on private operators to teach people how to bet and to educate them on betting terms and practices. Sulsky predicts a huge increase in the amount of gambling content in Canadian mainstream media, but notes bettors will need to differentiate between good education content and sites looking to capitalize on uneducated bettors. PointsBet Canada plans to use the NHL Alumni Association to play a key role in explaining responsible gaming to its consumers.
“Who better to help educate the Canadian sports fans around responsible gaming, than the ex-hockey players that folks have idolized across the country for years. It’s not about Wayne Gretzky, it’s about the Wayne Gretzky from every single small town across the country,” Sulsky said.
Brewer and Sulsky also believe it’s important for private operators to invest in Ontario’s communities. Hiring locally and establishing office space will promote social and economic responsibility.
“This industry is not sustainable if you are taking advantage of any part of it — the customer, or your relationships and your partnerships — and you’re not reinvesting in your community,” Brewer cautioned. “I want to make sure that we have the right operators in this market. I don’t want people coming in thinking they can take advantage. I don’t want people coming in thinking they can’t get a license … I want the right people in Ontario.”