A prominent provider of online sports betting in Ontario has finally transitioned into the province’s regulated market for internet gambling months after it opened and just as “grey market” operators are now required to cease any unregulated activity.
Bet99 has now launched an Ontario-focused website that is under the oversight of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the regulator of online sports betting sites in the province, and iGaming Ontario, a government agency.
The transition was a bit bumpy, as Bet99's .com website was down for several hours on Monday and its new .ca website wasn't yet taking bets. The operator said it was performing maintenance that took longer than expected, but both sites were online on Tuesday morning, albeit with some users reporting issues on Twitter.
????Maintenance Update????— Bet99 (@Bet99Sportsbook) October 31, 2022
For our users not in Ontario the website is back up & running.
We are currently completing maintenance on the Ontario website & will provide an update soon.
We once again apologize for the inconvenience today
Bet99 launched in 2020 and has targeted the Canadian market, including by striking partnerships with well-known athletes such as Georges St-Pierre and Auston Matthews. Advertisements for the brand’s free-to-play website have appeared widely on Canadian television starring those athletes, earning Bet99 name recognition across the country.
That approach has apparently paid off. In May, a press release called Bet99 "one of the largest online sport and casino betting websites that accept players from Canada," and said it has handled more than $1.2 billion in wagers.
But the Bet99.com site used by Canadians is tied to a gaming license issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which is located in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake just south of Montreal. It is not authorized or regulated by any province.
The new .ca site is provincially regulated and offers both online casino gambling and legal sports betting. And the operator's launch in Ontario's regulated market, with an Ontario-focused site, has been in the works for some time.
Bet99 received its internet-gaming operator registration from the AGCO earlier this fall, although obtaining that registration is only one key part of the province's licensing process. The other major step is to sign an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario, a government agency through which private operators can offer online gambling in the province.
Getting AGCO approval was also one of the conditions of a pending transaction that involves Bet99.
Sports Venture Holdings Inc., which owns the subsidiaries that run the Bet99 brand, is trying to merge with another company. With the AGCO registration obtained, the deal is nearing its completion, which will include listing shares on the Canadian Securities Exchange for everyday investors to own.
No time to waste
But Bet99’s launch also comes after other operators of online sportsbooks have jumped into Ontario’s iGaming market ahead of a regulatory deadline that could create problems for companies that don’t fall into line.
The AGCO recently warned that a new iGaming standard would come into force on October 31 that requires operators and suppliers to cease any unregulated iGaming activities in the province. The standard is aimed at so-called “grey market” operators such as Bet99 that may have been taking wagers in Ontario despite being regulated abroad or outside the province.
Ontario’s government has said it’s estimated that around $700 million was being wagered on those “grey” sites every year by residents. The province's new iGaming market launched this past April with the goal of pulling that spending into a regulated channel.
Private-sector operators of gambling websites were offered the opportunity to legally take bets in Canada's most populous province, and now more than 30 have taken Ontario up on the offer and launched within its regulatory framework. Those sites are in addition to the one run by the government-owned Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., which exists outside that framework.
"A key objective of the AGCO has been to move iGaming operators and gaming-related suppliers into Ontario’s regulated market as quickly and as seamlessly as possible," the regulator said recently. "To support this objective, the AGCO established a process for existing operators and gaming-related suppliers in the unregulated market to move into the regulated market without causing significant interruption to their Ontario customer base."
The end of an era
While the AGCO has been trying to transition "grey" operators into the regulated market, some bookmakers have been quicker than others to make the jump. That has irked earlier entrants that were already playing by the province's rules, such as the restrictions on advertising.
The AGCO finally had enough. The regulator announced the October 31 deadline earlier in the month, and warned operators were expected to follow the new standard if they wanted to join the province’s regulated market.
“As with any instance of non-compliance, the AGCO will take appropriate regulatory action against any registrant that does not meet this Standard (once it comes into force),” the AGCO said. “For those registered operators that have yet to transition from the unregulated market to the regulated market once the Standard comes into force, the registrant will be required to end its unregulated operations within Ontario pending the registrant’s entry into the regulated market.”