A brief Ontario sports betting timeline ahead of April 4 gaming expansion

The landscape of sports betting in Canada is scheduled to forever change on April 4 when the country’s most populous province is scheduled to launch its online gaming market, which will dramatically increase the number of online sportsbooks in Ontario.

Canadians have been able to participate in single-game betting for the better part of a year, but those in Ontario have been limited to the provincially-operated ProLine+, an OLG product. With Ontario’s iGaming market on the precipice of going live, bettors in Ontario are about to have far more betting options than ever before.

Similar to the United States, the industry’s biggest brands are all waiting to do business in Ontario. The list includes DraftKings, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars, PointsBet, and many more. All of the listed sites have licenses and will be competing in an open market, which is generally positive for the betting public. It means more betting options, generous welcome offers, more promotions, and the ability to effectively shop for lines.

As we approach this momentous day, it can also be useful to reflect on exactly how far Ontario has come to reach this point.

Though the legislation that makes the upcoming rollout possible traces back three full years, and Canada’s betting history far longer than that, we’ll keep things brief as we through some of that timeline before moving into a new age of sports betting in Canada.

Life before single-game betting: parlays and the grey market

Provincial governments introduced the parlay betting product ProLine and other similar sports lottery products in 1992 at retail locations to offer an alternative to the illegal bookmaking that had been going on in the country for decades.

However, those products had to adhere to Canada’s ban on single-game wagering. Therefore, only parlay bets involving a minimum of three games were made available.

In addition to ProLine and similar provincially-run products, there had been a single-game betting grey market consisting of offshore sites for multiple decades that had taken millions in wagers from Canadians for many years by offering what bettors couldn’t get from a provincial product.

Bill C-218 introduced in 2020 to amend Criminal Code

Back in March 2019, just under a year after the U.S. Supreme Court had paved the way for legalized single-game sports betting for Canada’s North American neighbor, Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli sent a letter to federal counterpart Bill Morneau formally requesting an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada that would allow single-game betting in his province.

Shortly thereafter, the movement gained some significant weight behind it when the NBA, NHL, and MLS all made their endorsement of such legislation known. Notably, Bill C-290, which also aimed to allow single-game sports betting, failed in 2012 and 2013, in part due to opposition from professional sports leagues.

Fast forward to November 2020, and Bill C-218 was introduced and sought to cut down the outdated restriction and allow provincial governments to decide how to offer single-game sports betting. It subsequently gained passage in Canada’s House of Commons on April 22, 2021, and then passed the Senate on June 22 by a 57-20 vote.

Single-game sports betting in Ontario: the ProLine+ Era

Following the passage of C-218, ProLine was the first single-game sports betting product to go live in Ontario was ProLine+ as wagering commenced in August 2021. It was and is the only legal source of single-game sports betting in the province. As such, ProLine+ got off to a prolific start, taking approximately 3.5 million bets in the first month-plus of operation alone. 

But even with that hot start, its limited offerings haven’t been able to keep players from gambling through other resources. Canadians spend around C$4 billion on offshore sites, and another C$10 billion in illegal offline betting, such as a local bookie. As the country’s most populous province, plenty of that comes from Ontario.

As single-game betting was getting going, commercial betting operators doing business across the United States began taking the necessary steps to receive approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to begin operating in Ontario.

As of September 2021, just a month after single-game betting was off the ground, regulatory standards were set and the AGCO opened its registration application system to potential iGaming operators interested in Ontario’s new gaming market.

Big names coming to Ontario in 2022

Since that time, all eyes have been set upon April 4 as the date when Ontario’s iGaming market goes live to private operators. The ensuing months have seen a steady stream of well-established names in the sports betting space officially obtain licensure to operate in the province, with the list totaling well over a dozen sites.

In February, it was PointsBet, theScore, and Rivalry Corp. (Rivalry Limited) getting an early start. And throughout March, we’ve seen a cavalcade of huge brands follow, including FanDuel, BetMGM, BetRivers, Unibet, and more.

While these sites won’t all be ready to go on Day One, the spring and summer of 2022 are going to paint a picture of exactly the kind of potential that a competitive market has in Canada. It means more betting options for the consumer, but also means more welcome offers and more promotions to take advantage of.

As April 4 quickly approaches, the entire game is about to change in Canada. For the first time, there will be a competitive, full-scale regulated sports betting model that offers bettors in Ontario a huge number of benefits that they’ve never seen before.