Alberta’s Possible Sports Betting Overhaul Draws Many Interested Parties, but Progress Remains Slow

Political marching orders, lobbying records, and communications from a government agency all suggest there are many parties interested in any adjustments to online sports betting and internet casino gambling in Alberta.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Nov 29, 2023 • 18:00 ET • 4 min read
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A possible overhaul of how legal sports betting functions in Alberta is on the political agenda, but there are a lot of cooks in that particular kitchen, which may account for the pace of progress.

Political marching orders, lobbying records, and communications from a government agency all suggest there are several parties interested in any adjustments to online sports betting and internet casino gambling in Alberta, which remains a one-site show for regulated wagering.

The Alberta Lobbyist Registry shows several familiar names in the online sports betting sector circling the province. Indeed, BetMGM, PointsBet, and theScore Bet are among those lobbying in Alberta with sports betting or iGaming in mind. 

For instance, the registration associated with theScore says planned activities over the next six months again include “working with the company's contractual lobbying firm to speak with the government and [Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis] on establishing a competitive regulated market for online gaming, like many other jurisdictions in North America.”

Another interesting entry is that of telecom giant Rogers Communications Inc., which also broadcasts sports and owns the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays, among other things. According to the Rogers registration, the company’s planned lobbying activities over the next six months include discussion of the “implementation of single event sports betting” in Alberta.

“Rogers supports the development of an iGaming framework in Alberta to establish jurisdictional congruency, and to repatriate gaming revenue for the benefit of Canadians by encouraging legal market growth and transitioning unregulated customers to lawful operators,” a Rogers spokesperson told Covers in an email.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's July 2023 mandate letter to Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Dale Nally restoked interest in gambling reform in the Western province.

Smith told Nally he was expected to work with Indigenous partners to “finish developing and implementing Alberta's online gaming strategy with a focus on responsible gaming and provincial and Indigenous revenue generation.”

The direction straight from the top of the Alberta government provided new hope that the province would pursue an online gambling framework similar to that of Ontario, where there are dozens of legal sites rather than just one, government-owned platform. That is what most Canadian provinces have on offer at the moment, even as Ontario reports millions of dollars in fresh revenue from its online gambling efforts. 

The times they are a-not changing

But not much has changed in Alberta since Smith’s mandate letter, at least publicly. There is still just one source of legal online gambling in the province, the government-owned PlayAlberta.

The hopes for Alberta gambling reform have also been high for some time. The province became the leading candidate to follow Ontario’s example when, in December 2021, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) announced it was seeking proposals for retail and online sports betting. The deadline for that RFP was Feb. 14, 2022, but since then, no winning bids have been announced. 

Ontario then launched its competitive iGaming market in April 2022, which has allowed dozens of online sportsbooks and casinos to legally accept action in the province. Billions have been wagered and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue generated since Ontario opened its new market. 

Yet it was clear even two years ago that there were more than a few interested parties involved in Alberta’s consideration of something similar. AGLC noted in Dec. 2021 that it was speaking with representatives of the casino industry and the Alberta Sports Coalition, a group representing the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers and the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Elks.

Yes we TAM

In the meantime, AGLC announced in August of this year that it was launching a "new and improved sportsbook" on its PlayAlberta gaming site, which is the only platform regulated by Alberta authorities. The update allowed the site to offer player props, same-game parlays, and new betting markets, among other things. 

The new PlayAlberta may be tiding over some sports bettors, but its legal monopoly means local players who want to wager legally can’t do much price shopping. It’s also very likely other bettors are still just taking their business to offshore and non-Alberta-based bookmakers. 

Still, setting up a new iGaming market in Alberta may have fallen down the list of priorities for the current provincial government, which is picking fights with Ottawa over pensions and power grids.

Even though the United Conservative Party has a clear majority of seats in the provincial legislature, the back-and-forth with the federal government is likely eating up a lot of bandwidth. There may not be a ton left to push the iGaming file forward at the moment.

Nevertheless, Alberta's population puts it on par with Louisiana and Kentucky, which have both implemented competitive markets for online sports betting. With that in mind, the ongoing interest from the gaming industry is understandable.

PointsBet Holdings Ltd. CEO Sam Swanell predicted in August that the total addressable market (TAM) in Canada for operators such as PointsBet would expand beyond Ontario’s borders, with Alberta the prime suspect.

“We believe that there's a good chance that Alberta, as an example, gets added to the TAM, let’s call it in the second half of calendar year [2024],” Swanell said. “And thus, that $2-billion market could become $2.5 billion.”

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