888, WSOP Among Latest to be Issued Ontario iGaming License

888 says it will offer poker despite province’s ring-fenced market. Meanwhile, GGPoker software, not 888, will power WSOP in Ontario.
Toronto skyline is seen at night. CN Tower and skyscrapers rise up from the shore of Lake Ontario. Ontario, lit up with lights and neon, Canada's biggest province, is set to launch its new regulated iGaming market on April 4.
By
March 04, 2022

Ontario represents an attractive long-term growth opportunity for 888 and this is an extremely strategically important milestone for us.888 Holdings announced Thursday that it has been awarded an iGaming license by Ontario’s new regulator and is preparing to launch its suite of online casino, poker, and sports betting products when the market goes live on April 4.

But 888’s announcement came amid two surprising developments.

First, the global online gaming giant revealed that it also plans to bring 888poker to Canada’s most populous province, despite its new regulator stating last month that Ontario’s new poker market will initially be ring-fenced with no shared liquidity. The announcement of the forthcoming 888poker Ontario is the first to officially be made by an operator that it plans to offer online poker in Ontario.

Perhaps equally surprising is that NSUS Limited — the parent company of GGPoker — has also been awarded an Ontario iGaming license by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), according to an exclusive report by pokerfuse. The move indicates that WSOP plans to launch its poker product in Ontario using GGPoker software, rather than that of its long-term partner in the US, 888.

888, WSOP Join Four Other Ontario Licensees

In its announcement, the parent of 888poker said it was “among the first operators” to win licensure by the AGCO. It said it was “ready to offer its leading, innovative and content-rich casino, sport, and poker products to players located across the province, all powered by its proprietary technology.”

888 and WSOP aren’t the only operators licensed to date by the AGCO. Records show that four additional operators have been awarded an internet gaming operator license.

PointsBet and Rivalry were awarded licenses first, on February 3. A third operator, Toronto-based theScore Bet, received its license the next day, February 4. 888 and Annexio Limited — the Australian parent of LottoGo, a lottery betting provider — were awarded licenses on March 1, followed by WSOP.ca on March 2.

Details listed on 888’s license differ from its competitors in that it shows 888 has secured multiple .ca domains for online sports, casino, and poker. The domain 888 secured is poker.888.ca.

Internet Gaming Operator Licenses Issued by AGCO

Licensee Brand Domain(s)
Annexio Limited LottoGo lottogo.ca
NSUS Limited WSOP wsop.ca
PointsBet Canada PointsBet casino.on.pointsbet.ca, on.pointsbet.ca
Rivalry Rivalry rivalry.com
Score Digital theScore Bet thescore.bet
VHL Ontario Limited 888 888poker.ca, casino.888.ca, poker.888.ca, sport.888.ca, 888casino.ca, 888sport.ca (*)

(*) currently trying to acquire domain

While 888 did not provide any additional details, its announcement Thursday, coupled with information on the company’s license, strongly suggests that 888poker Ontario will be launching in Ontario next month, despite the segregated player pool.

“We are delighted to have been awarded a [license] by the AGCO and look forward to launching in the market when it officially opens,” said 888 CEO Itai Pazner. “As a Group, our focus is on strengthening our presence and offer to customers across key regulated markets. To that end, Ontario represents an attractive long-term growth opportunity for 888 and this is an extremely strategically important milestone for us.”

Ontario would become the fifth network for 888 worldwide — it operates a global online poker room on 888poker.com; a European network pooling players in Spain and Portugal; and a segregated Italian poker room. In the US, 888’s platform powers the distinct WSOP PA plus it runs the 888/WSOP network across New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.

888’s software is also expected to power WSOP MI, once its imminent launch arrives. With Michigan’s regulators seeking to join an interstate compact, the WSOP MI launch could lead to a shared player pool with players in Pennsylvania on WSOP PA.

Other Possible iGaming Operators for Ontario

Other operators could also acquire licensure and launch in Ontario by April 4.

Last month, the AGCO told US Gaming Review that it had received applications from 30 operators seeking permission to launch in the province.

During a Q4 2021 earnings call last month, a BetMGM executive said the operator “expects to go live in Canada in April.”

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg teased an Ontario launch during that company’s Q3 2021 earnings call in November 2021. At the time, Reeg said Caesars anticipated that it would be “be among the better-positioned operators in Ontario given our long management contract history with Caesars Windsor.” But he made no mention of WSOP offering poker in the province.

Although no other online poker operators have confirmed receipt of a license from the AGCO, PokerStars has indicated that it is also actively pursuing one. But the timing of a launch remains unclear.

Other potential candidates include GGPoker and partypoker, although both have been tight-lipped about their plans.

Possible Timeline to Regulated Online Poker Launch in Ontario

One month from the official launch in Ontario, many factors have yet to be decided, including a tax rate on operators. Provincial lawmakers and regulators have not disclosed details on discussions over the tax rate, at least not publicly.

A legal challenge could also torpedo the market. Canada Gaming Review reported last week that a First Nations partnership opposes the province’s plans. But assuming the market launches as planned on April 4, Ontario regulators appear committed to avoiding any kind of “blackout” period.

As discussed in detail in pokerfuse’s exclusive Guide to Ontario Online Poker, operators that have applied for a license prior to the market’s opening on April 4 should be able to continue operating while their application is under review. Once their license is granted, the regulator will work with operators to assure a smooth transition from offshore to licensed Ontario online poker sites.

Get the latest info including bonuses, MTTs, and download Ontario Online Poker Apps in pokerfuse’s complete guide.

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