As the 108th Grey Cup approaches this weekend, the Canadian Football League championship could have been an opportune moment for Ontario to launch the private market for single-event sports betting.
On Tuesday, the Grey Cup will arrive in Hamilton at a ceremony at a Bayfront park, the first of a series of events this week culminating in the championship game Sunday between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the homestanding Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Tiger-Cats will host The Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario, a multi-purpose stadium affectionately dubbed “The Donut Box.”
But there are strong indications that the rollout of the Ontario iGaming market, initially scheduled for this month, may not occur until the first quarter of 2022. At last week’s SBC Summit North America, panelists from a session on Ontario sports betting reached a consensus that there could be a delay into next year, but they did not offer a firm prediction on the month for launch.
While the first quarter is the working date at this point, Canadian Gaming Association CEO Paul Burns is optimistic that the rollout will be closer to the early-to-mid stages of that three-month period. Burns moderated a session titled “Tracking Ontario’s Boom” at the summit, one of the largest gaming conferences each year in North America.
The heavy hitters
When the private market makes its much-awaited debut, a slew of industry heavyweights are expected to gain entry into Ontario. The list includes U.S. market share leaders such as BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel, as well as PointsBet and theScore, a Toronto-based media and sports betting conglomerate. With at least 14.5 million residents, Ontario ranks inside the top 10 among largest jurisdictions in North America.
Burns was joined on stage at the Meadowlands Expo in New Jersey by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment President Richard Roberts, Sporting Group CEO Andy Wright, Nuvei Chief Corporate Development Officer Neil Erlick, and PointsBet Canada VP of Legal, Compliance, & People Chantal Cipriano. PointsBet is making inroads north of the U.S. border with the hire of several prominent gaming executives and a partnership with Curling Canada ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
CGA CEO Paul Burns is moderating a very popular panel on Ontario iGaming at the SBC Summit with @CanadianGaming members @PointsBetCanada and @NuveiTech pic.twitter.com/fe8QQWRlEG
— Canadian Gaming Association (@CanadianGaming) December 1, 2021
A key consideration for regulators will be the acceptance and eventual transition of operators that formerly accepted sports wagers in the so-called gray market. In the leadup to the passage of bill C-218 in June, proponents of single-event sports betting cited estimates that Canadians wager as much as $14 billion a year outside the legal market. Meanwhile, Deloitte Canada projects that Canada could expand from a market of approximately $500 million a year to roughly $28 billion due to single-game wagering.
While parlay wagering has been legal in Canada for decades, it has been offered on a limited basis through the nation’s provincial lotteries. Single-event wagers, such as bets on Sunday’s Grey Cup, are less risky than multi-leg parlays. Cipriano, who previously served as senior director of legal and compliance with fintech company Mazooma, noted that the proper guardrails must be in put in place to ensure a fluid transition for former gray market operators.
Tax rate ambiguities
One potential hangup could surround the tax rate on a sportsbook operator’s gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Ontario. New Jersey imposes a rate of 8.5% on retail sports betting revenue, along with 13% for online sports wagers. The rate jumps to 36% in neighboring Pennsylvania, while New York will assess a 51% tax on mobile sports betting revenue for the first year of online wagering in the state. Without predicting an actual tax rate, the panelists noted last week that the rate in Ontario could be one that is “not healthy from an operator’s perspective.”
Private sportsbook operators will also be forced to play catchup with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), which added a platform for single-event sports betting through PROLINE+ in August. The late summer rollout gives the OLG a considerable head start over its private-market counterparts in building a player database for sports betting.
While the OLG appears to have somewhat of an advantage for now, the advantage is not as decisive as some experts believe, according to Wright.
“Most of these operators are very mature, they are coming with a product that they’ve invested in for many, many years that’s worked in Europe and around the globe,” Wright told Sports Handle.
Evolution's Jeff Millar says he's been in contact with roughly 20 operators for iGaming tech in Ontario. Canada's most-populated province is expected to be one of North America's largest sports betting and online gaming markets. Competitive market launch is expected early 2022.
— Ryan Butler (@ButlerBets) December 2, 2021
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) opened the registration period for iGaming operators in September. The AGCO initially targeted a December launch for the iGaming market, with private sports betting set to follow soon after.
“The AGCO and iGaming Ontario are working to ensure the open and competitive iGaming market is launched expeditiously,” an AGCO spokesperson told Sports Handle.
At PROLINE, Winnipeg is a small moneyline favorite over Hamilton. The Blue Bombers defeated the Tiger-Cats 33-12 in 2019 to win the Grey Cup for the 11th time in franchise history.