The Canadian dream: Overseas and local voices debate market’s future at Barcelona

The Canadian dream: Overseas and local voices debate market’s future at Barcelona

“Ontario is great,” William Woodhams, Fitzdares CEO summarised as he reflected on the UK bookmaker’s experience of Canada’s only regulated province for betting, one year on from regulation in April 2022.

Woodhams was joined on a panel examining Ontario market developments by a fellow Englishman, Leon Thomas, Managing Director (Canada) at Entain, and two Canadian business figures – Jared Beber, CEO of Bet99, and Ron Segev, Founding Partner of law firm Segev LLP.

Looking at the market from a European perspective, Woodhams observed that player behaviour in the province is a ‘complete reversal’ of old world habits as bookmakers can expect to see bettors “winning a lot and then self-exclude”.

On the market’s continuing development, he added: “I think lots of the conversation will be about regulation, but the actual punters are there and that runs mostly to the legal market, and there’s a lot of provincial tax revenue being generated. So it’s kind of a win, win, win.”

Echoing this sentiment was Thomas – who noted the humour of a man with an English accent breaking down Canadian business developments – describing Entain’s Canadian experience as being highly positive.

Whilst Ontario is very competitive for both local companies and overseas European ones, this has created a healthy marketplace, in Thomas’ view. In fact, it is ‘the most competitive marketplace in the world’.

He summarised: “Ontario is the most competitive market place in the world. You’ve got provincial lotteries, big US brands, big European offshore brands, and unfortunately you still have the black market.”

This competitiveness has, in turn, given players more choice, and a good operator-customer relationship in the province. Thomas continued: “We’re seeing different types of player behaviour between Ontario and non-Ontario, and certainly what we are seeing is customers enjoying the fact that they can go to other respected light brands.”

The difference between Ontario and other Canadian provinces was a topic high on the agenda, and this is where the local knowledge and expertise of Bet99 CEO Beber came into force.

Beber noted that for all operators interested in Ontario and the Canadian market at large, ‘cultural nuances’ need to be addressed – this could be especially important to overseas operators entering the local market.

He explained: There are very fundamental cultural nuances that exist both within provinces and between provinces. Even within Ontario, albeit it is one province, the individual cultures are very much so celebrated and promoted.

“So how you’re ultimately going to cater and service to someone who might be living in the downtown Toronto core versus in the Sault Ste. Marie or Sunbury is going to be fundamentally different.”

To support this understanding, data is paramount. Beber elaborated that leveraging and extracting the data operators are collecting to better tailor offerings to suit the cultural nuances of the Canadian player base has ‘resonated well’ with customers.

On this topic of data, Woodhams was keen to reiterate his enthusiasm for the Ontario regulatory regime and development of the market. In the Fitzdares CEO’s view ‘all our dreams came true and more’.

He continued: “All the hard work done prior to legalisation, all the data because of the large grey market, we had a good idea of what it would be like.”

That is not to say that Ontario has not posed challenges for international operators, however. KYC appears to have been an area of friction for some. Woodhams reflected ‘we’re using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ regarding KYC.

Meanwhile, rules set by the Alcohol and Gambling Commission (AGCO) on marketing have also meant that international operators have had to adjust their ‘playbook’ regarding marketing practices as well as the common use of bonuses.

“Here’s the rule,” Woodhams explained on the playbook’s applicability to Ontario. “Get a celebrity, put him on tons of TV ads, have an amazing signing offer, bonuses and use affiliates indiscriminately, this is the global playbook for some big companies and that is dead in Ontario.

“Content is one way of engaging the audience and it’s really challenging because everyone’s having to rethink the market, and I wonder how many consumers change operators once they’re in the funnel.”

Referring to the cultural differences, Beber explained that Bet99’s approach has focused on hyper localisation, whilst both he and Thomas agreed that regarding the use of content, operators in Ontario are having to up their game.

Competing against some of the big budget US firms that are also eyeing up Ontario is no easy feat, and both local Canadian firms and European outsiders are having to think outside the box and avoid going ‘toe to toe’ with such companies, as Thomas put it.

Beber remarked: “Operators have been forced to become resourceful to get new customers. We’ve been pushed into the sphere of content. We can leverage content to gain more customers. You need authentic and engaging content to reach that audience, and once you have that you can push the educational side of things.”

So where next for Ontario and where next for Canada? Just one year on from the launch of the Ontarian betting market, the conversation has already shifted to which other provinces could be the next big igaming sector.

British Columbia and Alberta are two of the most common names mentioned in this discussion, according to panel moderator Paul Burns, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA).

As a British Columbia resident, Segev was best equipped to comment on the development of the provincial market. Whilst it certainly has potential, he observed that there have been issues with money laundering in casinos in the past.

“I think that the government is probably going to be a bit concerned about operators’ ability to, rightfully or wrongly, prevent money laundering situations, whether or not a private operator has the ability, skills or experience to run a proper AML programme.”

Whilst in Segev’s view the answer is yes, operators do have these skills and capabilities, the British Columbia government may retain some doubts which could potentially hinder development of a private market there.

Regardless, back on the topic of Ontario, Segev remarked that in the 17 months the betting sector has been active, it has established itself as “a market that can’t be ignored,” equally that of New York and New Jersey as a North American powerhouse.

It is hard not to be drawn into the discussion around the untapped potential of other Canadian provinces, however. The panel observed that the Greater Toronto Area accounts for a huge amount of Canada’s betting volume. 

As the country is home to numerous other metropolitan areas, such as Vancouver or Montreal for example, what potential has not yet been uncovered via a new market launch? Only time will tell.

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