Back in June of 2018, Ontario elected a new premier by the name of Doug Ford, and being that he made a name for himself as a businessman, rumors immediately began circulating with regard to how he would boost the economy of Canada’s largest province. Within that whirlwind of speculation, there was plenty of talk of changing and expanding the way in which Ontarians can gamble especially online.
As it exists currently, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation – otherwise known as the OLG – allows residents to gamble online through a single site, PlayOLG.ca. This state-owned entity offers nothing in the way of innovation for players and is, quite literally, a monopoly. Players have been demanding more and higher-quality options, and Premier Ford seems intent on delivering on that demand.
The first budget released under Premier Ford is all about increasing revenues for the province, and nothing highlights that more effectively than the sections regarding gambling. According to Ontario’s budget release, Ontarians spend an estimated CA$500 million (about US$371 million) every year gambling online with most of that money going to what they refer to as “grey-market websites.” What this means is that instead of the monopolized, state-run casino site and mobile app, residents of Ontario are opting to spend their money and time at sites located overseas.
The budget goes on to say that the Tory government presently in place “intends to treat adults like adults and establish a competitive market for online legal gambling.” This is widely being interpreted as meaning that the Ontario government intends on legalizing play at sites that are not the sole state-run entity that currently exists. The aim here is to not only give players more choice, but to also increase the gambling revenues generated from online play. The budget release does not go on to elaborate too much further, but it is clear to see that the intent is there.
Of the reported CA$7.5 billion (approximately US$5.6 billion) in revenues generated in 2017/18 by Ontario Lottery & Gaming Commission, less than CA$75 million (around US$56 million) came from the monopoly’s single online casino site. In fact, it is largely considered to be an afterthought. When you consider that British Columbia and Quebec – both of which have smaller populations – bring in more online gambling revenues than Ontario, it is clear to see that something can and should be done.
While there is licensed online poker for at least some Canadians, it a pretty small and insignificant presence. Right now, the provinces of Quebec, British Columbia, and Manitoba have joined forces to create the country’s only fully legal poker network. Unfortunately, the network is trafficked by only hundreds of people at any given point in time as opposed to the thousands who simultaneously frequent the largest international operators.
Because the player pool is so small (online poker players from only three provinces), finding desirable games is difficult more often than not. In fact, if you wanted to play cash online poker tables during off hours within the middle of the week, games are notoriously difficult to come by. Add to this the utilization of obsolete Boss Media software, and it comes as no surprise that Canadians are taking their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.
This perfectly explains why almost all Canadian online poker players are opting for “grey-market” sites: because the quantity of games is superior, traffic is stronger, and the quality of the poker sites is top-notch. This is especially true in Ontario as the only online poker options available are offshore sites located in other countries.
There’s nothing in Canadian law prohibiting either regular residents or the managers of these gaming sites from doing business with each other. While none of these companies holds the imprimatur of government approval, they’re not targeted for prosecution by the authorities either.
If Ontario can successfully change current regulations and create an online poker industry that features multiple licensed operators, the sky is the limit with regard to the revenue that can be generated for the province.
For players, all of this would encourage them to gamble and play poker at sites that generate revenue for the province within which they reside. Some people may also feel safer transacting with firms that are given the official stamp of approval. Operators, meanwhile, would probably welcome regulation, assuming the tax rates and fees are not set too high, as it would make them appear more legitimate in the eyes of consumers.
Another major change that Ontario intends on making is to approve single-game sports betting. As it stands, you can place parlay wagers in Ontario, but this being the only option is something that severely limits the number of people who are willing to place wagers. The budget release cited the current and spreading legalization of sports betting in the United States as something that is taking away Ontario jobs.
Finally, Premier Ford and his government desire to allow B&M casinos to begin serving alcohol at 9 a.m. and, not only that, they will also be allowed to give alcohol away for free. These are some pretty sweeping and ambitious changes, so it will be intriguing to see how this all pans out. At the present moment in time, all of this is just wishful thinking, but there is real excitement surrounding these plans, and folks are hopeful that all of the above does, indeed, come to fruition.
Any hopes of Ontario-licensed online cardrooms will have to await the needed legislative changes. Until that time, you can head to an offshore poker room to get your fill of the game.
We encourage you to read our guide to the best online poker sites for Canadians. Right now, Bodog is the top dog, but there are plenty of options from which to choose. If you do opt to play at Bodog, be sure to take advantage of their 100% first deposit bonus that will give you up to $1,000 to play poker and $800 to use at the site’s casino and sportsbook.