In-Depth: Could Ontario Support More Online Poker? It Won’t be Easy

The six-month-old Ontario online poker market is showing signs of saturation. But it could also be on the verge of growth driven by WSOP and future market entrants, the first of which is likely iPoker.
Could Ontario Support More Online Poker? Maybe, But Not Easily
October 07, 2022

It has been six months since the regulated Ontario online poker market launched.

In that time, Ontarians have seen four poker networks — with a total of six poker rooms between them — open in the province. The market’s newest addition, a WSOP Ontario app powered by GGPoker, made its long-anticipated debut last Friday.

This week, Canada Gaming Review reported that a fifth online poker network — Playtech’s iPoker — could join the group if it can cobble together multiple operators willing to take a chance of offering online poker in Ontario.

Ontario has more options for online poker than any other US state, despite being a segregated market. It is also Canada’s most populous province and therefore has the potential to be a large market for the vertical — perhaps more significant than any in the US.

This raises the question: Could Ontario support even more options for online poker?

The answer: Maybe. The market shows signs of approaching saturation by one metric, yet also appears in a position for growth using another metric.

Comparing Ontario to Michigan and Pennsylvania

Considering how big of an online poker market Ontarians could sustain, Canada Gaming Review compared cash game traffic from the first six months that poker markets were open in Ontario and two US states — Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Both have legal online poker operating as segregated markets. However, it should be noted that Michigan will soon be an active member in a multi-state gaming compact for online poker and some casino games.

But some key differences should be considered.

Pennsylvania only had one operator, PokerStars PA, during the first six months the state’s online poker market was open — from November 2019 through April 2020. The final month of that period coincided with the first month of the COVID pandemic, an event that gave online poker a considerable boost.

Michigan also had only one operator when its market opened in January 2021, but the BetMGM Poker MI network joined PokerStars MI in March of that year.

Ontario is also a much bigger jurisdiction in terms of population. With 15 million residents, it would be the fifth-most populous US state. Pennsylvania and Michigan have populations of 13 million and 10.1 million, respectively.

Why the Market Could Be Saturated

An analysis of cash game traffic in September suggests Ontario’s market could be near the saturation point.

The three online poker networks active in Ontario — 888poker, BetMGM Poker, and PokerStars — averaged 418 concurrent cash game players that month, according to cash game traffic provided by GameIntel, which tracks cash game data exclusively for the Poker Industry PRO Data platform.

Pennsylvania averaged 298 concurrent cash game players in September, while Michigan averaged 256. Considering the populations for all three jurisdictions, Ontario could currently punch above its weight.

But the three are more similar when comparing the rate of cash game players per million residents. The rate works out to 27.9 seats per million residents in Ontario, compared to 25.3 in Michigan and 22.9 in Pennsylvania.

While those differences aren’t significant, consider that Ontario’s rate is likely to rise in the coming months because of the launch of WSOP Ontario. The operator is not reflected in the data provided by GameIntel for September.

Why the Market Could Be Poised For Growth

An analysis of cash game traffic from the first six months the market was open in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario suggests the market could be heading toward a period of additional growth.

The markets in Michigan and Pennsylvania both started with an expected early upward curve — peaking shortly after launch and then declining but stabilizing over time. Michigan completed the expected turn, but Pennsylvania’s rate spiked from the pandemic — in April 2020 (the sixth month), its rate hit an average of 882 concurrent cash game players.

But Ontario doesn’t appear to have hit a peak yet. The province’s average of concurrent cash game players reached 479 in August 2022 (the fifth month), but that was without WSOP Ontario.

That signals that the market is still growing. WSOP and iPoker might be able to enter the market at this later stage to grab players and enjoy the upward trajectory, no matter its length.

In the long term, expectations are that the market will contract, perhaps, to around 400 to 500 concurrent cash game seats. A contracting market would likely mean that some operators pull out of the vertical.

Who Could Offer Online Poker in Ontario Next?

The next entrant to Ontario’s online poker market will most likely be iPoker, Playtech’s online poker platform.

Since announcing in June that it plans to launch its iPoker network in Ontario by the end of 2022, Playtech has been looking for partner operators to make such a launch viable.

So far, only the startup NorthStar Bets has taken up Playtech’s offer. But three European brands — bet365, Betsafe, and Coolbet — after operating in the grey market for years, have built player bases in Ontario. They have also joined iPoker to launch in several jurisdictions in Europe. Both could encourage European brands to try offering online poker in Ontario.

Learn more in our comprehensive Ontario Online Poker Reviews »

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500

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