Canada will be Rush Street Interactive's third country of operation after the US and Colombia

Rush Street Signals Its Canadian Ambitions With Free-To-Play Product Launch

Add BetRivers to the list of US online gambling brands that are almost-certainly going to make an appearance in Canada.

Rush Street Interactive, the company which owns the brand, said as much on Thursday. It did so in a press release announcing the Canadian market launch of its free-to-play social casino product Casino4Fun.

The announcement includes the following statement from RSI CEO Richard Schwartz:

“Our expansion into Canada represents an exciting new frontier for RSI and continues our growth in the Americas,” said Richard Schwartz, CEO of RSI. “CASINO4FUN® offers our gaming community the same high level of entertainment and customer service as RSI’s real money gaming platform, in a free and informal setting. We look forward to providing a truly differentiated gaming experience for Ontario players that focuses on building player confidence and enjoyment.”

Schwartz’s emphasis on the province of Ontario is because it is set to become the first private market for Canadian real money online gambling. Other provinces are sticking with the lottery monopoly model for the time being. If all goes as planned, gamblers could be playing at regulated Ontario online casinos and commercial sportsbooks by December.

Free-to-play products are an important marketing tool for real money gambling companies. They represent a relatively affordable way to build a customer database and can be deployed, as here, prior to a real money market opening.

One interesting feature of Casino4Fun is that it includes a play money sportsbook, Sports Zone, which is comparatively rare. That’s important for Canada, where single game sports betting became legal less than two months ago.

Big plans for Rush Street

In the US, Rush Street could be considered a second-string operator, but a big one. US markets are mostly dominated by the so-called Big Three: BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel. Rush Street isn’t currently a threat to catch up with those, but compares favorably against other mid-sized brands like Golden Nugget, Caesars and PokerStars. Nationally, taking sports betting an iGaming together, it is the fourth largest operator.

The company has larger ambitions, however. As of this week, it’s part of a sports betting triopoly in Connecticut, where it operates in partnership with the state lottery. That market soft launched on Tuesday, and should become fully operational early next week. Unable to use the BetRivers brand there due to a quirk of the state’s rules, it operates under the name PlaySugarHouse, an older brand that it might otherwise have considered phasing out.

It’s also looking to add three more states to its sports betting portfolio: Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. It has newfound access to those markets through an investment deal with Boom Entertainment.

In addition to the US and, soon, Canada, Rush Street operates in Colombia. There, its brand is RushBet. It’s not clear what brand it plans to use in Canada, but BetRivers is probably the most likely.

The Canadian market is full of uncertainty

There’s a lot of excitement about the potential for the Canadian market these days. However, there’s also an equal amount of uncertainty, starting with who will participate.

Local brands TheScore and TorStar have big ambitions for Ontario, naturally. Caesars played a significant role in the effort to legalize single game sports betting in the country, because of its casino in Windsor. Meanwhile, DraftKings has made its intentions clear by expanding its partnership with the NFL to include the Canadian market.

As mentioned, Ontario will initially be the country’s only competitive market. Even on its own, though, it’s fairly large. Its population of 14.6 million – nearly 40% of the national total – makes it larger than any of the US states which have legalized all online gambling verticals. The key cities of Toronto and Ottawa are also quite wealthy. Which, if any, of the other nine provinces will end up following in Ontario’s footsteps is another mystery.

Canada will also differ from the US market in some other key ways. For instance, since 2006, the US has been a black market for online gambling, except where expressly permitted, and the Department of Justice has taken enforcement action against illegal operators. By contrast, Canada has always been a gray market. Many interested operators have been serving Canadians all along, albeit in unlicensed, unregulated fashion. That includes some companies, like PokerStars, that operate in the US regulated market as well.

That may mean Canadians are more familiar with online gambling than Americans. It could also help companies that have been operating in a gray market capacity, and hurt those less familiar brands. That makes preparatory strategies’ like Rush Street’s Casino4Fun launch all the more important.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for OnlinePokerReport, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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