SBC Rewind: Spring was all about Ontario’s iGaming awakening

Reviewing Ontario iGaming Launch
Image: Shutterstock

March and April were showered with stories of companies across the US and Europe readying for the launch of regulated online gambling in Ontario. Even SBC was part of the fracas, officially acquiring the Canadian Gaming Summit and our newest publication, Canadian Gaming Business.

Ontario launched regulated market on April 4

US companies readied for the April launch with a slate of new signings and partnerships. BetMGM signed Connor McDavid as an ambassador while FanDuel linked up with Canadian sports network TSN. Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) signed the first Canadian sportsbook partnership deal with the NHL.

In the weeks leading up to launch, numerous stakholders speculated on just how large the market might be. In an interview with SBC Americas, Benjie Levy of TheScore suggested Ontario would be, “one of the most, if not the most, lucrative igaming jurisdictions in North America.”

Kindred Group’s Canadian Country Manager Amanda Brewer agreed, predicting it would be a multi-billion dollar market in five years.

It wasn’t just the potential for revenue getting people excited, either. PlayCanada noted that the market created over 2,500 jobs that didn’t exist prior to regulation.

Once the actual April 4 launch rolled around, the enthusiasm was palpable. Operators from BetMGM to FanDuel proclaimed it a success before much of any actual betting had taken place.

Strong NY sportsbook performance had expectations sky high

There were plenty of reasons to be excited about the potential for Ontario as a market. Offering both online casino and online sports betting, there were inevitable comparisons to Michigan and Pennsylvania. A couple of weeks after Ontario launched, Pennsylvania sportsbooks crossed the $1 billion revenue threshold less than four years after launching. Michigan’s announcement it was joining the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association certainly pleased poker fans, who were eager for the liquidity the state would bring.

The timing for the sports betting launch in Ontario wasn’t ideal though. With the Super Bowl passed and March Madness over, the revenue numbers at US sportsbooks began the seasonal slump that runs through the summer. New York, on the other hand, launched during the NFL playoffs and immediately started posting massive, record-setting numbers in the US.

In February, NY sportsbooks posted $1.5 billion in handle. The March numbers were even better, with $1.64 billion in bets. These massive numbers drew attention and also made the expectations for Ontario that much grander.

NCAA and NFL reckoned with sports betting pros and cons

Growth was the topic of the season, but with growth also came a growing concern about regulation and oversight. The NCAA took a step towards embracing sports betting with new rules allowing leagues and schools to sign deals around official data.

Impropriety was on the NFL’s mind too. The league made major offseason headlines by announcing the suspension of Atlanta Falcons player Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022-23 season after he gambled on games. He was away from the team when he used a Florida sportsbook to wager on games, including ones involving the Falcons. The league used the announcement to reiterate that, not only can players and personnel not bet on the NFL, they should not be betting period.

Finally, the American Gaming Association started making noise about a topic that would carry through to year’s end–illegal offshore operators. AGA President Bill Miller penned an open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling on him to prosecute operators like Bovada and MyBookie. Garland never responded, but the cries from the lobbying group have only gotten louder in the subsequent months.