The new competitive market for online sports betting in Ontario got off to a fast start, but it has been a bumpy ride for some players so far.
Ontario’s new internet gambling market launched early Monday morning, with several operators of online sportsbooks and casino websites legally going live in the province.
A video posted by Vancouver-based GeoComply Solutions Inc., which helps sportsbooks nail down the location of bettors, showed a barrage of geolocation transactions from around 9 to 9:30 a.m. ET in (mostly southern) Ontario.
The activity suggests there were a lot of bettors logging on to online sports betting websites during that half-hour period.
Congratulations to all of our partners in Ontario who participated in the new #iGaming market launch yesterday!— GeoComply (@GeoComply) April 5, 2022
Here’s a 30 minute time lapse video showing a snapshot of activity on Monday night in #Ontario. pic.twitter.com/VjB42C3sQh
Some operators reported action almost as soon as they opened their digital doors. Coolbet tweeted at 12:20 a.m. that the first bet it had taken in Ontario's new iGaming market was on the Kansas Jayhawks as four-point favourites over the North Carolina Tar Heels in Monday night's NCAA college basketball championship. The $100 ticket was ultimately a loser.
PointsBet took its first "big wager" in Canada's most populous province shortly after midnight, a $500, two-leg parlay that needed both UNC and the Toronto Maple Leafs to win on Monday night. That ticket wound up as a loser, too.
“We’re pretty over the moon with how things are performing,” said Nic Sulsky, the chief commercial officer of PointsBet Canada, in a Monday afternoon interview.
PointsBet and Coolbet were among the 13 online sportsbooks that were cleared to legally launch in Ontario on Monday, a major change for a province that previously had only one legal provider of internet gambling, the government-owned Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
"While today is the first day of an igaming market expected to grow and thrive in Ontario, players will be able to find even more of the world-class online games they love in the weeks and months to come," said iGaming Ontario, the government entity legally responsible for the new iGaming market, in a press release on Monday. "Ontario’s large and diverse adult population relative to the rest of North America make it a very high priority for any operator’s expansion strategy."
Ontario is now the first province in Canada with a regulatory framework that allows private-sector operators of gambling websites to take action within its borders. There are hopes in the gaming industry that a solid showing could inspire other provinces to follow suit.
“We need to be great in order for this model to get replicated in other provinces across Canada,” PointsBet's Sulsky said.
Bumps in the road
But bettors have reported issues in trying to sign up and start wagering, such as problems with the processes to verify their location and identities. In the latter case, the exact requirements for proving your identity can differ from operator to operator.
Bet365 also said it was aware that some balances of its pre-existing customers in the province had not been transferred over to its new Ontario platform, creating alarm among affected players.
Those troubles were in addition to ones that arose before the launch of the province’s new iGaming market.
Operators that had previously taken bets from within Ontario (such as bet365) were required to settle any outstanding action before they could legally go live in the province, irking punters sitting on valuable futures tickets.
Another quirk of the new iGaming framework is operators that were previously taking bets on horse racing in the "grey market" have had to stop, as wagering on the sport is a federal responsibility in Canada and requires special licenses. What’s more, horse racing was carved out of the bill that was passed by federal lawmakers last year that allows the provinces to conduct and manage single-game sports betting.
Here is a thread with my takeaways from the first day of legal sports betting in Ontario.— Adam Chernoff (@adamchernoff) April 5, 2022
For those in Ontario we have a live chat on everything mentioned in the thread - and more here: https://t.co/KoNKJn3nLL
The surge in the number of authorized online betting options in Ontario has increased concern about gambling addiction in the province as well.
While the province’s iGaming scheme requires operators to receive the Responsible Gambling Council’s “RG Check” accreditation, New Democratic MPP Percy Hatfield said Monday in the Ontario legislature that it’s still not clear how the program will help those with a gambling addiction. Hatfield also claimed there are no tools built into the new market to set limits on the time or money spent gambling.
“At the end of the day, we hope that people will be responsible with their gambling,” said Michael Tibollo, the government’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, in response to Hatfield’s questions and comments. “But if they need supports, we’ve developed those supports, and those supports do exist in various organizations around the province.”