- US Online Poker
- US Online Casinos
- US Online Sports Betting
As of last week, Canadian PokerStars customers have access to all the company’s verticals. Promotional emails began going out on May 12, announcing the launch of PokerStars Casino and PokerStars Sports.
Over the following three days, the company sent out additional promotional emails offering a series of casino bonuses for existing customers, worth $5 apiece. New users, of course, can take advantage of a PokerStars Casino welcome bonus. At the moment, that consists of 100 free spins on a first deposit of $10 or more.
Correction: Some provinces may have had access to PokerStars Casino prior to last week. The promotional emails going out announce the launch of both the casino and sportsbook, but one reader from Ontario reports having had access to the casino for “months at least.”
Canadian poker fans have been part of PokerStars’ international player pool all along. The PokerStars poker room first opened in 2001, long before any other gambling products appeared under the same brand.
Black Friday, in 2011, was only a momentary hiccup for Canadian poker player. PokerStars and several other prominent poker rooms were shut down by the US Department of Justice. However, PokerStars was able to resume business for players in the rest of the world once it agreed to stop serving Americans.
That’s not to say that PokerStars is formally legal in Canada. Rather, the status of online gambling in Canada has always been that of a gray market. It would be illegal for PokerStars to offer its product from servers located on Canadian soil. However, Canadian law doesn’t have anything to say about the legal status of offshore internet gambling, and the authorities would have little ability to enforce such laws if they existed. The province of Québec made one attempt to block the IPs of offshore gambling operators, but that effort was ruled unconstitutional in court.
PokerStars first introduced sports betting in 2015, under the BetStars brand. Its first casino games arrived the following year. However, it blocked Canadian customers from using either of these verticals. Even attempting to access the webpages for those products from Canada resulted in a redirect to the main poker page.
It’s normal in gray markets to see operators enter and leave based on various factors. In the absence of legal clarity, the choice to serve or not serve a market comes down to a risk reward calculation. Ladbrokes, for instance, served Canadians up until 2014. It exited the market at that point, not due to anything that happened in Canada, but a change in British regulatory policy.
That said, it’s almost certainly no coincidence that PokerStars elected to launch its other verticals in Canada at this moment. Changes in the country’s laws haven’t happened yet, but they’re coming.
Asked about what factors influenced the company’s decision, a PokerStars representative declined to comment. However, there’s an obvious competitive advantage for any company which has a customer database already established when a new legal market opens.
Casino gaming in Canada is under provincial jurisdiction. At the moment, the only formally legal online casinos are offered by provincial lotteries or their subsidiaries, using white label, third party software. However, Doug Ford’s government has begun taking concrete steps towards its stated goal of privatizing online casinos in Ontario.
Meanwhile, things are changing for Canadian sports betting at the federal level. Single-game wagering, such as PokerStars Sports offers, would actually be illegal to offer on Canadian soil now, even for the lotteries and their casinos. A bill to change that law, C-218, is currently making its way through Parliament. It has the support of all major parties, and should pass easily.
Various European countries, such as the Czech Republic, have made a transition from gray to regulated market status, without first cracking down. Often what ends up happening is that the new regulatory body gives offshore operators a deadline by which to exit the market. Those that comply can then apply for licenses, and re-enter legally once they receive approval.
The Canadian and Ontario governments’ precise plans remain up in the air in that regard. However, PokerStars has been through that process several times in Europe, and presumably counts on things proceeding similarly here.