All eyes on Ontario sports betting launch as gaming expands in Canada

Courtesy: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Canada is officially following the lead of its North American neighbor and rolling out single-game sports betting markets with leading commercial sportsbooks in Ontario. It’s fitting that the country’s most populous province cuts the ribbon on single-game sports betting, which opened up for business on Monday morning.

Leading commercial operators such as PointsBet, BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings, and Caesars (just to name a few) will be able to offer their expansive betting products, though Caesars and BetMGM have been quickest out of the gate in the early going.

As the first province to expand sports betting in Canada by including private operators, there’s no doubt that Ontario sets the stage for the rest of this country when it comes to sportsbook regulation.

Ontario has the power to be the blueprint for how sports betting is rolled out wherever it goes live next. But no matter what happens, it’s safe to say all eyes are squarely on the province that is starting it all.

PointsBet Canada CCO says regulators are watching Ontario closely

The entry of these private sportsbooks into the market should be a boon for Ontario sports betting enthusiasts, providing a much more diverse and rewarding experience. That means major upgrades in welcome offers, promotions, and betting markets compared to local bookies, unregulated betting sites such as Bodog, and even the province’s own ProBet+ platform.

The idea in Ontario is that unregulated sites and provincially-run sportsbooks can’t provide the same experience as an open, competitive market. This could effectively remove billions of dollars from Canada’s grey market. And just how successful this venture is will likely pave the way for what’s to come throughout Canada.

So it’s natural that as the market that will break the proverbial ice on commercial betting in the country, Ontario will be watched very closely by regulators across Canada upon launch.

“We’ve spoken to everybody, and we speak with them at length. I think it is fair to say that every single regulator in every province across the country is watching to see what happens in Ontario,” PointsBet Canada’s Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky said.

The degree of success the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and Ontario iGaming experience in forging the province’s regulated market will likely factor heavily in how quickly other provinces initiate full-fledged sports betting operations in their respective regions.

“Everybody has eyes on Ontario,” Sulsky notes. “As Ontario rolls out positively, it will have a significant impact on how other regulators are viewing the evolution of private operator licensing across the country.”

A similar dynamic unfolded in the U.S. back in the early days of the country’s regulated market in 2018 and 2019. At that time, many states kept a close eye on the pioneering efforts of New Jersey before mustering the confidence to make a legitimate push for legalizing sports betting in their jurisdictions.

Quebec paying close attention to Ontario sports betting success

The province most interested in Ontario’s early sports betting business is likely to be its eastern neighbour, Quebec. Canada’s second-most populous province is a natural candidate to follow in Ontario’s footsteps if it determines the sports betting waters are welcoming.

Quebec arguably has the next-highest potential as a market among the country’s other nine provinces. Not only is the population base certainly robust enough, but Quebecers have already been conducting parlay wagers via Loto-Quebec’s Mise-O-Jeu platform.

Mise-O-Jeu’s sports betting offerings have naturally been limited in terms of not only bet types but promotions and other offers for its customers. There’s no question that an open, competitive market would be profitable for operators while giving bettors so many more choices of sportsbook options.

However, they have at least whet the sports betting appetite of the province’s 8 million-plus residents.

Quebec is also home to the Montreal Alouettes (CFL), the Montreal Canadiens (NHL), and CF Montreal (MLS) in terms of major sports teams. Much like in Ottawa, there would seemingly be plenty of local interest in continuing the expansion of sports betting in Canada.