Ontario's iGaming rules lay out six "risk themes" and leave it to the operators to figure out how to ensure the required outcomes

Going Under The Hood Of Ontario’s Registrar’s Standards For Online Casinos And Poker

The big gaming news out of Canada has been that sports betting could launch within two weeks. This was the news delivered by Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti on Thursday, Aug 12, 2021, at the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls.

This Canadian sports betting news was welcomed after weeks of silence following the last-minute passage of Bill C-218

There is also news on the online casino and poker front, however. On July 14, 2021, Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission released the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming.

The standards reinforce the long-standing view that privatized online gambling in Ontario is expected to launch in late 2021. This will likely coincide with the Ontario’s rollout of sports betting. That’s assuming that the province goes the route of a commercial market for that vertical as well, rather than a provincial monopoly.

Background on the Registrar and their role in gaming regulation

The Registrar is authorized by the 1992 Gaming Control Act to establish standards and regulate the province’s gaming industry.

The Gaming Control Act grants the Registrar the ability to craft the standards “for the conduct, management and operation of gaming sites, lottery schemes or businesses related to a gaming site or a lottery scheme or for related goods or services.”

The standards apply to operators, including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s online site, private entities, and suppliers.

The Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming

Rather than laying out specific rules for operators, the Standards mandate the required outcomes, leaving it to the operators to decide how to ensure their own compliance. These requirements are broken down into six categories, or risk themes as the document describes them:

  1. Entity Level
  2. Responsible Gambling
  3. Prohibiting Access to Designated Groups and Player Account Management
  4. Ensuring Game Integrity and Player Awareness
  5. Information Security and Protection of Assets
  6. Minimizing Unlawful Activity Related to Gaming

Entity level considerations

At the entity level, the standards have several components. The first is to ensure that management is complying with all applicable laws and regulations. Operators and suppliers are each responsible for their employees’ conduct.

The management expectations are in line with what most regulated jurisdictions require from operators. Effectively, there must be a mechanism in place for compliance. It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure adherence to the standards of all employees.

Operators are also required to provide a means for consumers to file complaints. Operators must document and deal with all player “complaints, disputes, and inquiries” in prompt fashion.

Choose your friends wisely

The Ontario Standards make clear that operators are responsible for the third-party actors they contract with. It is the operator’s responsibility to form contacts only with reputable suppliers.

This section also applies to affiliate deals. Operators must not strike such deals with entities that also promote unregistered operators to Ontario players.

Responsible gaming standards

The Standards detail six components of responsible gaming. Half of these have to do with advertising:

  1. No advertising may target minors
  2. Advertising must not be false or misleading
  3. Ads must not promote or appear to promote excessive play
  4. Operators must act to prevent players from playing excesssively
  5. Operators must implement responsible gaming controls
  6. Sites and apps must provide information on the signs of problem gambling and their options to address it

Marketing restrictions

In the United States, restrictions on advertising are subject to First Amendment scrutiny. However, Canadian law allows greater leeway for the government to dictate the permissible content of gambling advertisements. For instance, the standards dictate that a company cannot “Contain endorsements by well-known personalities that suggest that [gambling] has contributed to their success.”

Who will be able to register for a player account?

The standards set the minimum age at 19 years old except for the purchase of lottery tickets. For these, the minimum age remains 18, as it was before. Other excluded parties include: those who have self-excluded; key employees, executives, union representatives/ negotiators; employees of the regulator; and employees of either the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation or iGaming Ontario.

Information requirements for games

Operators must provide explanatory content for each game. At minimum, this must include:

  1. Instructions on how to play the game
  2. A description of what constitutes a winning outcome
  3. Maximum payouts for the game
  4. Comprehensive and understandable information on the game’s odds

Collusion, cheating and bots

The standards dictate that operators must have procedures in place to “deter, prevent, and detect collusion and cheating.”

Peer-to-peer games must also notify players that bot use or similar digital automation is forbidden. Furthermore, operators must install mechanisms to root out bots.

Operators must additionally create a straightforward reporting process for players who suspect collusion, cheating, or bots. When the operator suspects cheating has occured, they must notify the Registrar of the incident.

Take your crypto elsewhere

The Standards make it clear that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are “not legal tender and shall not be accepted.”

This requirement is part of the anti-money laundering standards that operators are required to maintain.

What’s next for Ontario iGaming?

The Registrar will amend its Standards for Internet Gaming to incorporate Ontario’s sports betting rules once those have received final approval. With comments on the sports betting rules due on Aug 18, 2021, Ontario online casinos are expected to roll out before the end of 2021. Sports betting will probably follow close behind.

Of course, given all that is currently going on in the world, these projections rely on many things going right. Delays are always possible.

- John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.
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