Ontario AG Finds Boom in Online Sports Betting, but Responsible Gaming Gaps

A centralized self-exclusion list for Canada's most populous province is in the works, but its arrival is TBD.

Last Updated: Dec 5, 2022 12:07 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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The use of responsible-gaming tools may not be keeping pace with the boom in online sports betting in Ontario, according to the province’s auditor general. 

One of the many findings in Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report on the operations of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. was a surge in players using its internet-gambling site, but not the setting of loss or time limits. 

OLG has seen its iGaming customer base grow from around 31,000 average monthly players in 2017-18 to nearly 257,000 in 2021-22, said the AG’s report, which was published last week. Those players can set limits on their deposits, playing time, losses, and spending on OLG’s website, which offers casino games, lottery products, and legal sports betting

“Despite this significant growth in Internet players, new players are generally not using responsible gaming tools,” the report said. “For example, the use of the player casino loss limits tool dropped from 33% of active players in June 2017 to only 11% of active players in June 2022 despite internal OLG surveys that indicate the risk has increased from 11.5% of players at risk of problem gambling in 2019/20 to 13.4% in 2021/22.”

Room for improvement?

The findings by the AG come after COVID-19-related restrictions nudged more players toward online casinos and sports betting sites and in the wake of Ontario’s launch of a competitive iGaming market that has provided numerous other operators access to Canada’s most populous province. The expansion has allowed Ontario to shift unregulated, “grey market” gambling into a regulated one, and to take a share of that iGaming revenue as well.

Nevertheless, the increased number of options for online gambling in Ontario, and the explosion of advertising that has come with it, have contributed to concerns about increased addiction. While operators such as OLG have responsible-gaming programs in place, the AG’s findings — including that OLG's funding for responsible-gambling programs fell to $7 million in 2021-22 from $20 million in 2016-17 — suggest there is more that can be done. 

OLG said in its response to the AG that “building a sustainable player base” is crucial to the government-owned company’s long-term success. 

“And through continual advancement of our Responsible Gambling programming, OLG will provide more access than ever before to its educational platform, PlaySmart, which supports customers with information, tools, and referrals to community-based services,” OLG added.

New kids on the block

But OLG is no longer the only legal game in town. 

In April, Ontario launched a regulated market for iGaming. OLG is now competing with almost 70 other sites, and the overall player pool has grown with that increased availability, as 628,000 active accounts were reported for the private market as of the end of September.

The AG’s report called for more coordination between OLG and its competitors in protecting players who want to take a timeout from gambling. While OLG offers a self-exclusion program for its casino and iGaming sites, and its private-sector rivals must have the same. A player who bans themself on one platform can still access others. 

“However, players who self-exclude from OLG’s Internet gaming platform are not automatically self-excluded from casino gaming sites,” the AG’s report said. “They can also still access Internet gaming platforms operated by iGaming’s private Internet gaming operators.”

The remedy for this is a centralized self-exclusion platform for all iGaming sites in the province, including that of OLG. As of November, though, the AG said there was "no timeline" for the completion of that project, which is being worked on by government agency iGaming Ontario. 

The AG recommended OLG and iGO share information to stop self-excluded people from accessing sites. OLG said it supported the centralized self-exclusion list and will share data and expertise with iGaming Ontario and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. 

In an email to Covers, iGaming Ontario said the centralized self-exclusion program is still in development and that it is a "key deliverable" for the agency. However, iGO noted the project requires working with all operators while ensuring player privacy is protected. 

“Details around the centralized self-exclusion program’s readiness and implementation will be communicated at an appropriate time,” iGO said. “In the meantime, please note that all legal Operators in Ontario are required to have a self-exclusion program that is well-promoted, easily accessible to their customers, and includes resources and information about gambling support services.” 

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