Ontarians Offer Opinions on Online Poker Rules for the Province, Part One: How We Got Here

Earlier this year, the online gaming community in the province of Ontario, Canada changed. Instead of having unlimited access to an array of online gambling options from around the world – sports betting, daily fantasy sports (DFS), casino games, online poker and other gambling choices – Ontarians have become the only residents of Canada who were “fenced”. ” to be able to access game offers. Instead, Ontario residents had to bring their gambling dollars to government-approved gambling outlets – and only in Ontario.

This is something that has been seen across the spectrum and in many different countries. In the United States, decisions about gambling have been left to the states, resulting in a hodgepodge of laws, regulations, and options that vary from state to state. In Australia, online gambling regulations have resulted in a virtual ban on ALL online betting. Many European countries, including Spain, Italy and France, have dipped their toes into restrictive regulatory waters, with varying degrees of success.

Now that some time has passed since the regulations were implemented in Ontario, Poker News Daily wanted to gauge the thoughts of residents of the province. What we found was a province that was happy with the way things were going. While not against government gambling regulations, many feel there should have been more thought before regulations were passed. And yes, some people are angry.

What happened?

Prior to September 2021, all of Canada had a very enjoyable relationship with online gaming. One of its native tribes, the Kahnawake Indians, even operated a game server from their reservation which served many popular online poker rooms. Under Canadian law, however, online gambling was technically illegal – it was simply not enforced by any Canadian government entity.

In 1985, the provinces were given the power to regulate gambling in their particular areas. This led to the opening of several casinos (Casino Windsor opened in 1994) and, in 2001, a creation of a Canadian, Isai Scheinberg, gave birth to PokerStars. Although Scheinberg would eventually take his creation outside the country, PokerStars initially made his mark within Canadian borders.

Since that time, there have been jolts in the regulation of the industry. Ontario decided that it had to not only master the industry, but also get its percentage from the operations. In September 2021, Ontario proposed a series of online gambling regulations that would change the industry.

What are the rules?

The proposed rules would place all forms of online gambling under the auspices of a new body, iGaming Ontario. iGaming Ontario would work closely with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to ensure that the new marketplace would be both protective of players and supportive of the businesses involved. It would also streamline the process of entering new operations into the market.

The downside to this process, from the start, was that it would only work if the “rest of the world” was excluded from the operation. Ring fencing is not new to the online gaming world; different countries have done this, with varying degrees of success, and US states are using geolocation technologies to ensure that no player from outside the borders plays into their state-sponsored industry. Since these “ROW” sites typically have more players, they needed to be blocked to ensure that players would only participate on Ontario-sponsored sites.

During 2022, Ontarians had to get used to the idea that they would be pushed out of the international online gaming community. They should step into the unknown – how big is the gaming world in Ontario? Apparently the AGCO thought it was worth enacting the law; studies have shown that over $1 billion is wagered online every year.

The new rules came into force in April 2022 and they were sweeping. Not only did they tackle sports betting, DFS and casino games, but they also swept online poker. At first, there were only three online poker operations licensed to play in the province – 888Poker, Bet365 and BetMGM. Since that time, WSOP.ca has come into play (bringing GGPoker to the mix), as has PokerStars.ca.

Individual poker rooms have encountered numbers similar to the triumvirate of states in the United States (Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey) that have joined forces after a pact. The current leader is WSOP.ca (GGPoker), which averages 325 players over a seven-day period (the metric used by PokerScout for measurement purposes). PokerStars Ontario has 220 players in comparison, while BetMGM takes third place with an average of 140 players.

Revenues were on par with what the AGCO estimated. In the second quarter of 2022, Ontario alone accounted for $267 million in gaming revenue. This is spread across the various active gaming operations and not just online poker.

On October 31, the AGCO banned Ontarians from participating in ‘ROW’ online gaming operations and players had to adapt. The impact of the fully implemented ‘ring fence’ is also now under the microscope, as the government considers whether it will impact its bottom line. In our second and final part of this report, we’ll get Ontarians’ responses to the new rules – both good and bad. It will be a good look at a situation that was working well – but the government wanted its share.

Joan J. Holland