Surprises Emerge as April 4 Launch of Ontario iGaming Nears

Fewer online poker, casino, and sportsbook operators licensed in Ontario than expected; PokerStars might go through a transitional period before launching; DraftKings is MIA; and FanDuel pulls DFS from the province.
A view of downtown Toronto with the CN Tower looming is seen at night, from street level. Lit up buildings and umbrellas are to the sides.
By
March 31, 2022

With four days left before the launch of regulated Ontario online poker, casino gaming, and sports betting, provincial regulators have issued licenses to 16 online operators — about half the total it disclosed had applied for licensure and which the government said it was working with last month.

The markets are scheduled to launch on April 4. A database for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) shows that 16 internet gaming operator licenses have been issued as of 12 a.m. ET Thursday, March 31. All but two of the licenses were issued in March and most had been issued by March 10.

In early February, iGaming Ontario (iGO) — a lottery subsidiary of AGCO that was established last year to help facilitate the expansion of gambling in the province — told US Gaming Review that 30 operators had applied for licensure with the AGCO.

Licensee Brand Date Issued License Duration
Annexio Limited LottoGo March 1 1 year
BetMGM Canada Inc. BetMGM March 21 1 year
Coolbear Ontario Ltd. Coolbet March 11 1 year
FanDuel Canada ULC FanDuel March 11 2 years
Fitzdares Canada Ltd. Fitzdares March 10 1 year
Hillside ENC Bet365 March 15 2 years
LeoVegas Gaming PLC LeoVegas March 10 2 years
NSUS Ltd. WSOP March 2 1 year
Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. OLG March 21 30 years
PointsBet Canada PointsBet February 3 1 year
Rivalry Ontario Corp. Rivalry March 8 1 year
Royal Panda Ltd. Royal Panda March 10 2 years
Rush Street Interactive BetRivers March 9 2 years
Score Digital theScore Bet February 4 2 years
Unibet Ontario Inc. Unibet March 10 2 years
VHL Ontario Limited 888 March 1 2 years

When we reached out to the iGo on Wednesday, it declined to say whether it anticipated any more operators would be licensed by April 4.

“In order to operate legally in Ontario as of April 4, iGaming operators must secure a registration with the AGCO and they must execute an operating agreement with iGO,” the regulator told Canada Gaming Review.

The regulator also clarified that licensed operators in the province will give a percentage of their revenue to the iGO and that the percentage would be “determined pursuant to an operating agreement and does not constitute a tax. iGaming Ontario cannot comment on the precise revenue share rates at this time.”

The most recent operators to receive internet gaming operator licenses were BetMGM and the {Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), which were both awarded licenses on March 21 — BetMGM for a 1-year term and the OLG for 30 years.

“We appreciate that so many operators have engaged with us to undertake the requirements to enter the legal market,” the iGO said. “We look forward to April 4 and the growth that will come in the weeks and months that follow.”

What Happened to DraftKings and PokerStars?

Two glaring omissions from the AGCO’s list are DraftKings and PokerStars, but both plan to launch at some point in the province.

“We look forward to launching in Ontario and competing in that market, pending licensure and required approvals,” DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said during an earnings call to discuss Q4 and the full-year 2021 on February 18. During the call, CFO Jason Park said the company projects that it will be profitable by Q4 of 2023, in part from a successful launch in Ontario.

“There’s been a gray market [in Ontario] for many years,” Robins said during the Q&A portion of the call. “A lot of the operators we will be competing with have already been operating there and have already had time to build customer bases. We are not projecting the same level of market share in Ontario — or in Canada in general — that we are projecting in the US, just because we don’t have that early mover advantage that we have in the US.

“It should be a good market. It has iGaming, it has sports betting, and we already have a decently-sized user base of DFS [daily fantasy sports] customers there. So, we’re pretty excited about Ontario.” More about DFS later.

Meanwhile, PokerStars revealed in an exclusive last month with pokerfuse that it was working with both the AGCO and iGO to secure a license. It was the first time the operator confirmed that it aimed to launch PokerStars Ontario, although pokerfuse had also spotted what looked like an effort to develop a special poker client for use in Ontario.

Transition Period for Gray Market Operators Possible

But pokerfuse also reported at the time that it understood there could be a transition period where existing platforms like PokerStars are allowed to continue operating their unregulated platforms. In the interim, provincial regulators would continue to issue licenses to other operators — provided they and any third-party companies they work with first exit the gray market. The AGCO issued a directive to that effect on March 11.

In a sign that such a transition period could become a reality, a PokerStars moderator on the Discord social media platform recently posted “[PokerStars is] continuing to work with the AGCO and iGO on our new licensed entity and are getting closer to sharing that offering with our communities across Ontario.

“In the meantime, it’s business as usual for our players, as our site will remain open.”

What Operators Will Offer Online Poker in Ontario?

Of the 16 licensed operators, only two — 888 and WSOP — have put plans in motion to offer online poker, despite the province being a closed market. Three others — Bet365, BetMGM, and Unibet — offer poker in other jurisdictions and could do likewise in Ontario.

Another possible poker provider is Rush Street Interactive (RSI), which is licensed to run its BetRivers brand in the province. In early March, RSI acquired and onboarded the Run It Once Poker (RIO) team and platform in a cash-and-stock deal worth $5.8 million, so there is potential to see an RIO Ontario launch at some point in the future.

FanDuel Pulls Plug on Ontario DFS

One consequence of the regulated market beginning on April 4 is that DFS operators are starting to pull out in order to avoid paying expensive licensing fees and forking over a large percentage of profits.

“Due to a change in government regulations, FanDuel will not be able to offer paid or free daily fantasy contests in the province of Ontario starting on April 1st,” FanDuel said on its website. “Ontario residents can participate in daily fantasy contests while physically located in other provinces and within US states where daily fantasy is permitted.”

In response, the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association (FSGA) urged its member companies and DFS enthusiasts to contact their elected officials “to let them know that their ability to play paid fantasy sports contests is in serious jeopardy.”

“The current regulations from the AGCO require a CDN$100,000 registration fee and 25% revenue, both almost double the rate of any US state,” the FGSA said in a statement Tuesday. “Ontario’s fees and regulations are large enough that even the largest operators can no longer offer contests in the province.”

DraftKings is likely to follow FanDuel’s lead but has not yet announced plans to that effect.

Get the current Ontario online poker bonus codes, Ontario online casino promo codes, and Ontario sportsbook no deposit bonus info in our comprehensive guides »

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