Alberta’s Only Legal Sports Betting Site Braces for an Oilers Stanley Cup, Fresh Competition

Even though Play Alberta is the province’s sole legal online sportsbook, it still has rivals in the illegal market, in addition to the prospect of new, legal challengers.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at Covers.com
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Jun 7, 2024 • 14:16 ET • 4 min read
Oilers Wales trophy
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It’s arguably a pretty important time for Play Alberta.

The Alberta-based Edmonton Oilers are four wins away from the first Stanley Cup win for a Canadian team since 1993. And while an NHL championship would be huge for many in the Western province — except Calgary Flames fans — it could be doubly so for its only legal online sportsbook, Play Alberta.

Alberta’s Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) runs the site, and the agency reported on Thursday that 40.5% of all Stanley Cup futures bets at Play Alberta are on the Oilers. An Oilers win could be especially profitable for the 66 Play Alberta bettors who took advantage of a slow start to the season by Edmonton to hammer them in the fall at odds of +2200 to win the Cup. 

Edmonton’s opponents in the NHL final, the Florida Panthers, are also responsible for just 4.5% of tickets, meaning there is at least a decent amount of liability in the balance for the AGLC and its online sportsbook. 

“There's a fever pitch going on in the city,” said Dan Keene, vice president of gaming for the AGLC, in an interview with Covers on Friday. “Many Albertans have gotten on the Oilers and we continue to see a lot of action. We've seen increases round-over-round in terms of unique players and overall wagers on the NHL playoffs so far. So it's exciting to see all the activity that's happening.”

But there is more at stake for Play Alberta than some potentially hefty payouts from the Stanley Cup Finals, which starts Saturday. An Oilers Cup run is a tent-pole event for sports betting in the province, making it ideal for customer acquisition. 

The AGLC and Play Alberta have offered free bets and odds boosts for NHL playoff games, including on pre-built parlays. The operator has also used giveaways to build customer loyalty, giving NHL bettors a chance to win Oilers tickets. That will continue for the Stanley Cup Finals, as AGLC CEO Kandice Machado said in a press release that Play Alberta’s partnership with the Oilers will be extended to offer bettors a chance to win tickets to each home game for the series, as well as a pair of season tickets for next year.

This is something Play Alberta’s rivals cannot match. And even though Play Alberta is the province’s sole legal online sportsbook, it still faces robust competition from the illegal market. 

A press release from the AGLC on Thursday said more than 313,000 players have registered with Play Alberta since it launched in late 2020. The AGLC also said the site took an estimated $5.36 billion in bets for the fiscal year that ended March 31, giving it an overall iGaming market share of more than 45% in Alberta, according to data firm H2 Gambling Capital. 

That, however, means as much as 55% of all online gambling in Alberta is happening with entities not regulated by the province itself and therefore giving none of their revenue back to the local government. Part of Play Alberta’s pitch to customers is the funding that it provides for education, health care, and other government services.

The AGLC can also point to its standards for upholding anti-money laundering laws, privacy and data rules, and “comprehensive” responsible gambling tools, Keene said. The commission is continuously working to improve Play Alberta as well, as the plan for the future includes more online slot content, additional payment providers such as PayPal and Apple Pay, and then, this fall, a mobile app that will be sports betting only at first. 

“We're going to add all other verticals on the app early in the calendar year,” Keene said. “But that'll be a massive improvement, that we believe, anyway, to the Play Alberta experience.”

New rivals to worry about

The AGLC is making those improvements not just to keep existing players happy and to win market share from illegal operators, but ahead of what could be the arrival of new, legal competitors in online gambling

There is just one legal provider of iGaming in Alberta at the moment, which is the AGLC. However, the Alberta government is exploring the possibility of additional providers, passing legislation last month that could allow for an Ontario-like model for online sports betting and iGaming in the province by 2025. 

Ontario launched its competitive iGaming market in April 2022, a first-of-its-kind regulatory framework for Canada that has allowed dozens of sites, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to legally set up shop in the province. Almost everywhere else in Canada, Alberta included, government-owned lottery and gaming corporations have a legal monopoly over online gambling.

So Play Alberta is a beneficiary of one of those legal monopolies, but it may come to an end as soon as next year when the government-owned gambling platform could face provincially regulated competition. Until then, the AGLC and Play Alberta have an opportunity to win over the loyalty of more bettors. The attention paid by the commission to improving its online sportsbook is an approach similar to that of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., which has had to contend with a legion of legal rivals with the launch of a competitive market there.

Keene said the AGLC is “very supportive and stands ready to endorse and support” Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally’s work to expand the legal online gambling market in the province.

“We want to offer a product that's continually enhancing and continually improving,” Keene said. “And we don't take anything for granted.”

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