AGCO: Ontario igaming market has been a success to date

Ahead of the Canadian Gaming Summit, Doug Hood, Project Director of Sports Betting at the AGCO, has reflected on the launch of the Ontario igaming market.
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Ahead of his appearance at the 2022 Canadian Gaming Summit, Doug Hood, Project Director of Sports Betting at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), has spoken to SBC Americas about the Ontario online sports betting and igaming market.

Hood reflects on the launch of online sports wagering and igaming in the Canadian province, the challenges the AGCO has faced, and his role at the upcoming Gaming Summit.

Thanks to SBC Americas for the chance to discuss what has been an exciting year for the regulated sports betting industry in Ontario, both online and in the land-based world. 

With the passage of Bill C-218 and the legalization of single-event sports betting in the summer of 2021, combined with the launch of the regulated internet gaming market on April 4, 2022, a large new menu of sports betting offerings has been unlocked for Ontario players and their introduction to Ontario accelerated. As the regulator for all areas of gaming in Ontario, the AGCO has an important role to play in the regulation of these new sports betting offerings as they become available in the province, whether through traditional channels, such as casinos or lottery products or within the new internet gaming market.  

The recent launch of Ontario’s internet gaming market has clearly been a success to date, including the sports betting component. One of the key objectives behind the new igaming market is to bring sites Ontario players are already gambling on under regulation so that they can be held to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection, and game integrity. From a sports betting perspective, this meant creating a broad and outcomes-based framework that would capture the products that are important to Ontario players, including traditional sports, esports, novelty, betting exchange, and fantasy sports products, and cover various bet types, including in-game, pool, parlay, and exchange bets.  

At the same time, it meant establishing specific sports betting standards that require effective responsible gaming protections and that help to ensure the integrity of the betting markets against activities such as insider betting or game manipulation.  Such standards include:

  • Requiring operators to actively monitor the betting markets for suspicious betting activity.
  • Operators must also engage independent integrity monitors (IIMs), who receive, assess, and distribute unusual/suspicious betting alerts in accordance with the Registrar’s Standards. 
  • Prohibiting insiders, including coaches, athletes, and referees, from betting on certain events.
  • Ensuring that sport and event offerings meet acceptable betting criteria and are not objectionable.

The same basic framework for regulating sports betting established for internet gaming has been mirrored in the casino and lottery sectors, with some minor modifications made to reflect sector realities, and this overall framework has been well-received both by industry and sports integrity advocates alike.  For example, the International Betting Integrity Association has indicated that they would like to see the Ontario model applied in other jurisdictions moving forward.

For this approach to be effective in practice, however, the AGCO needs to ensure that operators and suppliers are meeting our standards through effective compliance oversight.  Our compliance approach involves working collaboratively with the industry to maintain or, if necessary, re-establish compliance. Where regulatory expectations are not met, the AGCO may use a full spectrum of compliance responses to achieve those goals, including education, warnings, financial penalties, suspensions, and, in the most serious cases, revocations. In cases where severe incidents occur, the AGCO will act proportionately to ensure the public is protected.  For example, the AGCO has recently issued notices of monetary penalties to online operators in relation to certain advertisements. 

That said – this is a brand-new market – the first of its kind in Canada. We are, therefore, prepared to be nimble and are actively listening to feedback from a broad range of stakeholders. Beyond compliance, protecting the sports betting markets will require us to work globally and develop strong relationships with other regulators, law enforcement, and sports integrity advocates so that we can share best practices and learn from each other. 

In fact, at the upcoming Gaming Summit in Toronto, I will be sitting on a panel with industry and sports integrity experts to discuss the sports betting regulatory approach we are taking in Ontario and lessons that can still be learned from other parts of the world. In the end, such discussions may lead us to refine our sports betting regulatory framework but, for the time being, we feel like we have landed in a good place here in Ontario.