On the 4th of April this year, a major landmark saw the introduction of legal sports betting and online gambling in Canada’s biggest province, following a major overhaul that saw it become fully regulated.
It meant that operators could no longer be based offshore for the Ontario market and that they had to have a licence application approved. Subsequently, this led to 16 operators securing the right to offer their services in Ontario, almost immediately, having registered with the licensing authority; the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
"Starting today, Ontarians can play on world-class iGaming sites within a safer, fully regulated framework," the AGCO said in a statement. "Today's milestone achievement helps realise the government of Ontario's objectives of providing consumer choice, ensuring player protection and supporting the crown of the legal iGaming market.
"Though not every operator will be ready to launch their services today, more and more will come online as they become ready. Players will soon be able to play on their preferred sites with the assurance that those sites are being closely monitored for game integrity, player protection and responsible gaming."
Such a move from the commission has prompted suggestions that this could become one of the biggest markets in the world, and not just Canada, with many other provinces still yet to act in terms of legalisation.
Of course, the neighbouring US will have something to say about that, however, this has not stopped brands from across the border from applying for licenses in what they feel is a market that has a prime opportunity for growth.
Indeed FanDuel is one brand that was one of the first to act and as a result, gain a license, while simultaneously signing a multi-year broadcasting deal with TSN. It is a partnership that will allow FanDuel to integrate advertising with the broadcaster across all of its channels, including in-game broadcasting and duel-branding opportunities.
How much of an impact can Ontario have?
It appears that everything is set up in the province for it to have a major say on the wider iGaming landscape, especially considering the speed at which operators have been granted licences.
With an estimated 15 million people, this would equate to Ontario being the fifth largest state in the US, in terms of headcount and as such, is expected to generate $800 million in gross revenue during its first 12 months.
Indeed, Pennsylvania has a population of just under 13 million and with a 34 per cent tax rate, generated in excess of $500 million last year. Interestingly, theScore Bet, which is a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming Inc. has its headquarters in Toronto - a key city in Ontario.
"(Monday's) launch is significant as it expands Penn National's online gaming business to a jurisdiction that is expected to be one of the largest regulated markets in North America," said Jay Snowden, the president/CEO of Penn National. "We're proud to enter this market behind a trusted and authentic Canadian brand that resonates deeply with Ontarians.
"From the outset, the Levy family and theScore team played a meaningful role in championing the legalisation of single-event sports betting and the creation of Ontario's framework. With its large user base, superior technology and mobile gaming expertise, theScore Bet is in a strong position and I'm highly encouraged about the opportunity ahead."
Such views were also echoed by John Levy - Chief Executive Officer at theScore, who revealed at the time: "(Monday) is momentous as we finally are able to participate in a regulated gaming market in our home country," he said. "We applaud the Ontario government for its leadership in creating and implementing a safe, consumer-friendly and commercially minded market.
Curiously, there is opposition to the regulation of the Ontario market, with Woodbine Entertainment - Canada’s largest operator - CEO Jim Lawson worried that this could have a negative impact on the country’s horse racing industry. This is still yet to be integrated into online legal sports books.
"We're not looking for exclusivity, we're not looking for protection," Lawson said. "We just want to be part of it . . . all we're asking for is to let (operators) host our product..
"We've understood almost from the beginning they (sports betting platforms) were all very interested in horse racing and if they wanted it they would have to buy it from Woodbine. That was the premise, which we've been advancing. They were anxious to work with us on an operating agreement and host our content on their platform, which would have been great for racing because it would have been a huge exposure for it."
"I think it hurts us that we're not out of the starting gate with everyone else," he said.
One operator that has identified significant potential in the Ontario market, is one that has enjoyed swift expansion over the last couple of years, not least of which in the US. Australian brand PointsBet, was quick to submit a licence application for Ontario, in the same manner that it has swept across the US in recent months.
Not only this, it has strategically a partnership deal with the CFL’s Ottawa Redbacks which helps to substantially increase its market share in a new market from day one.
"Today is a great day for Ontario sports fans," Scott Vanderwel, the Chief Executive Officer of PointsBet Canada revealed at the time. "I'd like to share how thrilled we are to see the province's sports wagering market officially open."
Could Canada open up further?
Although offshore online gambling has been available to Canadians for years, the overhaul for Ontario could lead to other provinces following suit once they see the advantages that this generates, particularly from a tax perspective.
One concern though could be whether online gambling and sports betting are as popular in other provinces as in Ontario, which is one of the main pockets of the country.
What is likely to be the case is that other provinces keep an eye on the activity of the market in Ontario to check how popular it is and how much potential it could have.
Currently, a number of provinces have tribal gambling in place, with land-based Indian casinos partnering with native online casinos which are just solely for that particular province, with most of the profits being committed to the local community for initiatives such as education and healthcare.
Ontario though is certainly the key in terms of the future of the Canadian market. It could be that this does not open up any further - certainly, there are a couple of US states that are unlikely to legalise online gambling in the future. This could well be the case for Canada.