Sports-betting operators can run in Ontario while applications being considered

·4 min read

TORONTO — It has yet to gain provincial approval but that hasn't prevented BetRegal from serving Ontario football fans.

Last August, the CFL announced a multi-year partnership with BetRegal, making it the league's official sports-gaming partner. However, the Ontario sports-betting industry didn't open fully until April 4.

BetRegal has applied to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to operate legally in the province yet still hasn't been approved. But companies that had their documentation submitted before April 4, which BetRegal did, received a grace period to continue operating here while their applications were being considered.

BetRegal offers CFL odds on the league's website and gives fans the chance to wager with it. BetRegal also has a partnership with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Among the companies licensed in Ontario are PointsBet and FanDuel. Each has a partnership with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (which owns the Toronto Argonauts) while PointsBet also has a deal with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Other prominent companies operating in the grey market while their Ontario applications are being considered include Bet99 and Betway.

"The reality of this is it really doesn't matter if they're licensed or not at this point because they're still able to operate in the province," said Greg Warren, who covers sports betting in Canada for Sportshandle.com and USBets.com. "Nothing has really changed for them . . . they're just not an officially licensed product of Ontario yet."

Regulators have faced plenty of criticism for the current situation. But Warren said the application process is a complicated one.

"When I was at the Canadian Gaming Summit in June, there was a panel with some executives from the AGCO and IGO (iGaming of Ontario) . . . and they said they're being very lenient with these grey operators," Warren said. "They said at that time that in six months time they want to have all of these grey operators fully licensed and that was kind of a soft deadline.

"They kept reiterating, 'This is a very large, complex process and it's a very thorough process to go through all of the technology that these operators have and all of their safeguards and all of their policies. This just takes time unfortunately.' They just said, 'Look be patient. Everything is in the works.'"

Warren feels the hope is the current situation will be resolved by the start of the NFL regular season in September. And with good reason, as the NFL is regarded as a top product in sports-betting circles.

"They view this as a very important time for customer acquisition," Warren said.

But something else regulators are being criticized for is not having already provided revenue figures since the Ontario launch. In May, Canadian Gaming Association CEO Paul Burns said he anticipated revenue reports would be released quarterly but added he was speculating.

However, Ontario's first-quarter figures haven't yet been divulged. On Friday, the AGCO didn't immediately respond to an email requesting those reports.

"In the United States it's very common for markets to provide revenue data on sports betting on a weekly or monthly basis," Warren said. "And for some reason, the ball keeps getting kicked down the line with the release of these numbers (in Ontario) and people throughout the industry are frustrated.

"We're hitting a hurdle for some reason, we're hitting a huge speed bump as far as licensing and getting revenue numbers out and nobody knows why."

"There's speculation the numbers aren't what they were projected because the grey market was already so strong in Ontario," Warren said when asked for a reason for the delay. "There's talk (provincial regulators) are a little worried about releasing the revenue numbers and getting some of the negative feedback.

"That's just speculation but that's kind of what I'm hearing from people. I'm hearing they're supposed to be released quarterly. We're due for a report, we're overdue."

That's not to suggest companies operating in Ontario don't have an idea about their own financial numbers.

"These individual operators will know their own personal numbers but I am sure they are talking with each other and have a ballpark idea of how they're doing," Warren said. "So I think people within the realm have a sense of where these numbers are at.

"This is all very much a work in progress whenever you launch a new industry. It's going to take some time, it's probably going to be a full year before things are exactly the way they're going to be."

Warren wouldn't be surprised to see changes made, especially with online sportsbooks being prohibited from offering any public advertising of inducement, bonuses and credits.

"There's a lot of backlash over the strict advertising standards that are in place," he said. "That's been very hard on business for (operators) because it's really how they acquire customers.

"It's been very difficult for the operators and they're frustrated by that and we could see some changes to some of these advertising standards in the coming months."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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