Ontario AG Aims for iGaming Framework by Fall

The Ontario government and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) have been relatively quiet on the topic of internet gaming in 2021. The plans emerged in 2020 to introduce a larger regulated igaming space in Ontario to embrace a growing market. This month, Attorney General Doug Downey announced that Birgitte Sand will the public consultation process in the coming months.

The hope is that, by the fall of 2021, Ontario will be prepared to create the regulatory framework necessary to move forward.

Lawmakers on Board

To say that the year of the coronavirus pandemic was a rough one would be a stark understatement. For the gambling industry in particular, it shone a light on some failures to grow that industry. Land-based gambling proved insufficient to handle the needs of a growing gambling population and provide for its needs. Technology had provided for a stronger revenue stream, but Ontario lawmakers had too long ignored that option.

Ontario has provided online gambling via the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) for years, but its options limited the customer base. OLG was a monopoly, though. Many customers took their business to internet gaming sites based outside of Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford knew this, as did many Ontario lawmakers. Ford advocated for a competitive online gambling market in 2019, but lawmakers did not fully embrace that vision until 2020.

While the whole of Canada worked on single-event sports betting, Ontario lawmakers focused on Ford’s wishes. They planned to move forward with legislation to end the OLG monopoly and open the provincial gambling market to new operators. They saw the benefits of offering a competitive but regulated market, most of all to entice Ontario residents that were spending millions on internet gambling sites to bring their business home.

Assistance from an Audit

The Ontario Office of the Auditor General released an important report in December 2020 for the five-year period ending March 31, 2020. It revealed some interesting statistics:

  • Ontarians could access 2,200 internet gaming websites in 2015.
  • Ontarians paid real money to the 745 companies that operated those sites in 2015.
  • PlayOLG generated $92M in the fiscal year 2018/2019.
  • Ontarians spent more than $500M each year at offshore gambling sites.
  • A regulated and competitive Ontario igaming market could generate $54M in revenue by the 2023/2024 fiscal year.

One of the primary concerns of the Auditor General was that opening the market to new igaming operators could present a conflict of interest. If OLG provided oversight for its own gaming site and those of its competitors, it could not provide a fair service.

In March 2020, the government approved a plan by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and Ministry of Finance to establish an arm of the AGCO to regulate and manage a new internet gambling framework. Lawmakers hoped that would alleviate concerns about conflicts of interest.

Attorney General Pushes Forward

The government has been slow to officially form the new arm of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. So, Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey took matters into his own hands. He decided to move forward with the creation of a new regulatory framework for a competitive internet gaming industry.

He told BNN Bloomberg that the consultation process will pull together all ideas and best practices for consumer protections and establishing a money laundering prevention system. The framework will also detail the roles of the private and public sectors in online gambling and how all regulatory and governmental bodies will intersect.

Consultation will also aid Downey in creating a gambling industry that coincides with the market and is attractive enough to bring players from offshore sites to ones with Ontario licenses. This process will help decide which games the operators will be able to offer and how land-based gambling entities will partner with or launch their own options.

Importantly, consultations will help Ontario decide how to tax the industry and distribute the revenue.

Downey said, “That’s exactly what the consultations are about.” He also noted that he is looking forward to conversations with experts in the igaming field. It’s our goal to have the framework built and finalized by the fall of this year.”

Public Views Welcome

Ontario hired Birgitte Sand to be in charge of the public consultation to facilitate conversations and idea exchanges. She will help construct the ultimate framework by consolidating responses over the coming months. Sand brings many years of experience with her, having most recently served as the Danish Gambling Authority Director.

According to the AGCO discussion paper, the objectives of the consultation include the following:

  • Introduce fair competition in the market, enhancing online entertainment choices per customer preferences.
  • Ensure safe and responsible play while preserving game integrity and preventing gambling harm. This also includes preventing underage access and ensuring compliance with anti-money laundering laws.
  • Unlock opportunities for private businesses and reinvest in new provincial revenue priorities, with revenue that previously went to global-facing gambling sites.
  • Enable operators to easily meet regulatory requirements and get to market quickly by reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Ontarians are welcome to submit feedback via the AGCO website before April 16, 2021. This can be done via a Word file or email. Submissions must address issues specified in the discussion paper, which is linked on that AGCO webpage.

There will also be virtual discussion sessions with industry members and those in the responsible gambling world, as well as members of First Nations and Indigenous groups.

At the same time, the Ontario government must complete its proclamation and make the new multi-site igaming market official and lawful.

Torstar on Front Lines

Recently, Toronto Star’s parent company Torstar announced that it wanted to enter the igaming world in Ontario. The media organization with its origins in the 1800s wants to venture out into new endeavors and secure the financial future of Torstar.

Torstar already submitted a proposal for its online casino and gambling site to the AGCO. If approved, they could be on the front lines of the new Ontario igaming industry and among the first to compete with OLG for customers.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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