TORONTO — It didn't take long for a wager to be placed in Ontario's fledgling sports-betting industry.
Single-game sports betting has been legal in Canada since last summer but the industry didn't fully open in Ontario until 12:01 a.m. on Monday. PointsBet announced just 50 seconds into the launch its "first big wager" in the province was a $500 two-leg parlay of North Carolina over Kansas in the NCAA men's basketball final and Toronto Maple Leafs over the Tampa Bay Lightning, both on Monday night.
Ironically, for years parlays were the lone legal bets allowed in Ontario. But in August 2021, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to allow single-event wagering.
On Monday, Ontariobets.com said 16 gaming operators were up and operating in the province. More have registered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario but haven't yet secured agreements with iGaming Ontario.
One that did was FanDuel, an online gaming operator, which signed a multi-year deal with broadcaster TSN on Monday. FanDuel will integrate with TSN across platforms, including in-game broadcast, digital marketing, mobile apps and co-branding opportunities.
Monday's launch means people in Ontario can now bet on casino games, sporting events and other gambling activities through online websites and smartphone apps from operators registered to run activities in the provincially regulated market. However, many bettors in the province have been active for years in the so-called "grey market," with their wagers going offshore.
Now, though, the industry is regulated and the Ontario government will secure revenues from it.
"Today is a great day for Ontario sports fans," said Scott Vanderwel, the chief executive officer of PointsBet Canada. "I’d like to share how thrilled we are to see the province’s sports wagering market officially open."
Last month, PointsBet reached a partnership with the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks. In August 2021, the CFL announced a multi-year partnership with BetRegal that made it the league's official online sports gaming partner.
The Ontario launch coincides with the NCAA men's basketball game, which will see the University of North Carolina facing Kansas on Monday night. And on Thursday, The Masters will tee off in Augusta, Ga., not to mention the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators being in action as well as the NBA's Toronto Raptors.
Opening day for the Toronto Blue Jays is Friday night when they host the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre. And there's a full array of other European and world sports events for interested parties to wager on.
But the Ontario market missed out on both the Super Bowl and most of March Madness (NCAA men's basketball tournament). The American Gaming Association estimated over 17 per cent of adults in the U.S. — roughly 45 million people — planned to bet US$3.1 billion on the hoops tournament alone.
""Starting today, Ontarians can play on world-class iGaming sites within a safer, fully regulated framework," the AGCO said in a statement. "Today's milestone achievement helps realize the government of Ontario's objectives of proving consumer choice, ensuring player protection and supporting the crown of the legal iGaming market.
"Though not every operator will be ready to launch their services today, more and more will come online as they become ready. Players will soon be able to play on their preferred sites with the assurance that those sites are being closely monitored for game integrity, player protections and responsible gaming."
Ontario's population is around 15 million people, which would make it the fifth-largest American state. The province is expected to generate about $800 million in gross revenue this year.
Pennsylvania, which has a 34 per cent tax rate on sports betting and a population of around 12.8 million, accumulated just over US$500 million in legal gaming revenue in 2021.
Also officially launching Monday was theScore Bet, a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming, Inc., headquartered in Toronto.
“(Monday's) launch is significant as it expands Penn National’s online gaming business to a jurisdiction that is expected to be one of the largest regulated markets in North America," said Jay Snowden, the president/CEO of Penn National. “We’re proud to enter this market behind a trusted and authentic Canadian brand that resonates deeply with Ontarians.
"From the outset, the Levy family and theScore team played a meaningful role in championing the legalization of single-event sports betting and the creation of Ontario’s framework. With its large user base, superior technology and mobile gaming expertise, theScore Bet is in a strong position and I’m highly encouraged about the opportunity ahead.”
John Levy, the chief executive officer of theScore, agreed.
"(Monday) is momentous as we finally are able to participate in a regulated gaming market in our home country,” he said. "We applaud the Ontario government for its leadership in creating and implementing a safe, consumer-friendly and commercially minded market.”
But not everyone was excited with the launch. Jim Lawson, the chief executive officer at Woodbine Entertainment, worries an expanded sports-betting market could have a detrimental impact upon the horse-racing industry.
Woodbine is Canada's largest betting company but has been unable to integrate its pari-mutuel horse racing into online legal sportsbooks.
"We're not looking for exclusivity, we not looking for protection," Lawson said. "We just want to be part of it . . . all we’re asking for is to let (operators) host our product..
“We've understood almost from the beginning they (sports betting platforms) were all very interested in horse racing and if they wanted it they would have to buy it from Woodbine. That was the premise, which we’ve been advancing. They were anxious to work with us on an operating agreement and host our content on their platform, which would have been great for racing because it would have been huge exposure for it."
Lawson hopes horse racing will soon be included in the new market but admits being forced to do so following the launch is hardly ideal.
"I think it hurts us that we’re not out of the starting gate with everyone else," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press