The cornerstones to success, importance of collaboration and illegal entities were just a smattering of the touchpoints as the Canadian Gaming Summit waxed lyrical about Ontario’s first year of legalised gaming.
In a session titled ‘One Year Later’, which picked up where a similar discussion that dubbed the province a 10 year overnight success 12 months earlier had left off, Doug Downey, Attorney General for the region, kicked things off by reflecting on performance after the magical date in April 2022.
“I think the first year has gone great from a business and responsible gaming perspective,” he said. “40 operators coming into the market and projections of 85 per cent of the black market coming in, that’s phenomenal in one year.
“It’s remarkable how far we’ve come in one year, it feels like the industry has been here for a while.”
Echoing that it feels much longer than 15 months since the open online gaming market was ushered into fruition, Martha Otton, Executive Director of iGaming Ontario, offered an update on the current state of play.
With 45 operators currently live, 36 of which had existing operations prior to regulation, Ontario boasts more than 70 available gaming sites for players, as well as more than 500 games that are accessible to accelerate overarching ambitions of developing, and maintaining, one of the most open game catalogues in North America.
“I would say the first year has been very, very successful”Martha Otton, Executive Director of iGaming Ontario
Praise was also reserved in hitting government achievements of heightening entertainment choices for Ontarians and improving player protection, with this latter point particularly cited.
With seven operators having achieved the Responsible Gambling Council RG Check accreditation, the remaining entities are set to be “well on track to meet the two year timeline”.
Furthermore, operators are also required to spend a certain percentage of their gross gaming revenue on responsible gambling, messaging and education, with work also being undertaken on exclusion systems.
“We are working towards a centralised self exclusion, which will be enforced at its time in the province and that will allow players to self exclude on all products across the province.”
Despite acknowledging that “there’s certainly more work to be done,” Otton updated that the current quarter is x3.5 ahead year-on-year, with more than 12,000 jobs, and salaries “well above” the provincial average, having been created.
In addition to stressing that “I would say the first year has been very, very successful” and that Ontario is “certainly on track to exceed what it was that we returned to the province last year”, Otton continued.
“I think the secret was communication and letting people do what they’re good at”Doug Downey, Attorney General of Ontario
“There’s still lots of lots of work to do,” she said. “We need to get everything right out of the gate. But looking back, the transition was successful.
“Those operators that are in process coming to the end of that transition period, did cease operations. And I think that was obviously the right thing to do. And I applaud them for doing that.”
Praise for the sector was also issued by Tom Mungham, CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, who delved into the difficulty of a much publicised UFC decision and said that the “sector has responded incredibly well” to notable advertising infractions.
Slightly changing tack, Dave Forestell, Chair of iGaming Ontario, who once again took the moderating reins, quizzed the panel on what was dubbed as the “secret to success in getting such a high channelisation rate in the first year”.
“I think the secret was communication and letting people do what they’re good at, and not stealing the space for each other,” Downey said.
“And that constant iterative development really made the difference, because we heard things back in real time. The AGCO and IGO were adapting to and changing at the same time and we communicated as partners pretty regularly so that we’re all on the same page.
“It was really important to the government that we tackle that black market and that we do it in a responsible gaming way.”
“Dozens and dozens of operators have exited the marketplace because of the pressure applied”Tom Mungham, CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
Continuing along this path, Otton highlighted the “many surprises” that have cropped up during the past year, with the size of the market and number of operators cited.
A five year goal of hitting a 90 per cent channelisation rate within five years was also highlighted, with expectations surpassed as 85 per cent was reached within one year alone.
However, certain black market concerns still cause concern: “there are still a number of players who are playing on both regulated and unregulated sites and I’d love to understand why,” she stated.
“What is it that they’re getting on the unregulated site that isn’t offered in the regulated sites or the products?”
Adding: “I think one of the successful factors here is collaboration… honestly, we could not have done this without all the conversations that we have with the operators, which I hope continue in a meaningful way.”
Mungham pointed to the frameworks put in place as one of the cornerstones and key to Ontario’s successes, with the province making to expectations “absolutely clear” from the earliest possible moment.
“And that included prohibiting operators and suppliers from doing business with those who continue to operate an unregulated marketplace. And this, I think, has proven incredibly successful,” he said.
“We will continue to engage in and amend those standards and take input based upon the evolving risks”Tom Mungham, CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
“Dozens and dozens of operators have exited the marketplace because of the pressure applied to the standards on the suppliers.”
As Otton stressed a desire to hear more from players, Mungham noted that the AGCO will “always continue to assess risk in the marketplace” as both it and the wider industry continue to evolve.
“So we’ll have a keen eye towards that,” he commented. “Our registrar standards are there and we’re constantly keeping an eye on them to make sure that they have a good fit with the sector.
“We will continue to engage in and amend those standards and take input based upon the evolving risks in a sector, the advancement of technology that consumers demand.”
Concluding his own involvement, Downey added on what lies ahead in the immediate future: “What’s next for me from a political side is … we have liquidity challenges, right?
“We have interprovincial and we have international, and so that my head’s in that space a fair bit. I don’t want to talk too much about what I’m doing, but that is very much on my mind.”
As questions opened up to the floor, black market concerns reared its head once again regarding what work is being done to clamp down on the advertisements for illegal, unregulated entities.
“We’re pulling whatever levers we can and (leveraging) relationships to begin to and work with media companies to be able to as a first step, trying to get some of that advertising down,” Mungham closed.