Ontario, which is home to nearly 15 million Canadians, expects to open the nation's first private online gambling market in December

Major US Online Gambling Operators Prepare Their Canadian Strategy As Ontario Launch Approaches

Online gambling and sports betting operators are expanding their presence in Canada. For now, they’re aiming at the upcoming privatized Ontario market. However, there’s also hope that this encourages other provinces to relinquish their lottery monopolies, as well.

A large part of that optimism is due to the events of Aug. 27, when single-event sports betting launched in Canada. All but two provinces have already gone live with such a product. Saskatchewan expects to follow suit next year, leaving Nova Scotia as the lone holdout.

Hopeful about opportunities there now that Canada offers online sports betting, FanDuel and PointsBet recently added Toronto-based front office roles. That’s despite the fact that, for now, Ontario sports betting takes place only through the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG)’s Proline+ app. Canadian online casinos are also generally run by the provincial lotteries, though the OLG is already in the process of taking applications from private companies to launch Ontario online casinos.

Other operators with significant US online gambling presences are expanding their Canadian footprints in non-real-money-wagering ways. The DraftKings Marketplace opened up on Aug. 17 and BetRivers entered Ontario on Oct. 14 with a free-to-play social game, Casino4Fun.

FanDuel created an entirely new Canadian market role

FanDuel created the lofty sounding title of “General Manager of Canada” and picked Dale Hooper for the role, announcing his appointment on Oct. 18.

In FanDuel’s announcement, Hooper said:

“It is an incredible time to be a part of the growing sports gaming industry, and I look forward to joining [FanDuel CEO] Amy [Howe] and the team as we bring the No. 1 sportsbook to Canada. I am proud to be joining the industry leader at such a momentous time.”

FanDuel Sportsbook has the plurality of the US online sports betting market’s revenue.

Hooper will be working on plans for Canada’s entire 38 million population, so FanDuel will be ready if other provinces open up in addition to Ontario. That province alone is home to nearly 15 million people, or 40% of the national total.
The FanDuel press release said:

“In this newly created role, Hooper will be responsible for developing and implementing FanDuel Group’s long-term strategy in Canada, in keeping with the nation’s regulatory and legalization process within each province. “

Hooper will be creating a game plan for FanDuel’s Canadian operations, but he’s hardly a neophyte at blazing new trails. His previous job at Deloitte Canada was as a partner, “focused on the cannabis industry.”

PointsBet Canada is a few months old

PointsBet, an Australian online sports betting company known for points betting, started setting up its leadership team in Toronto in June. That’s when the operator with an online casino and online sportsbook presence in the US hired Nic Sulsky to help create PointsBet Canada.

Sulsky had been the president of daily fantasy sports platform Monkey Knife Fight, which is now owned by Bally Interactive.

Since hiring Sulsky as the chief commercial officer, sister site Legal Sports Report detailed two more hires: Chantal Cipriano is the vice president of legal, compliance and people; and Scott Vanderwel is CEO.

Oct. 7, PointsBet Canada added Dave Rivers as a marketing vice president who reports to Sulsky.

Despite the parent company having originated on the other side of the globe, PointsBet Canada is attempting to position itself as a hometown operator.

When announcing the Curling Canada deal on Oct. 13, Vanderwel stressed that point:

“As one of the only true Canadian operators, it was important for PointsBet Canada to partner with organizations deeply rooted in our nation’s identity. Our partnership with Curling Canada will not only support community-based sports but bring curling fans an unprecedented experience from coast-to-coast-to-coast.”

BetRivers enters Ontario

One of the tricks of the trade for online casino and sportsbook operators is to build a database of customers who may cross over when different markets open up.

To that end, DraftKings launched DFS in Canada in 2012. The operator can likely market the new products to that database of customers when Canada’s provinces allow private competition. That’s what DraftKings did in the US as new states opened up.

Rush Street Interactive (RSI) launched free-to-play online casino and sportsbook, Casino4Fun, through its BetRivers brand.

In its Oct. 14 press release, RSI said:

“RSI expects to launch real-money online casino and sports betting in Ontario under its BetRivers brand in the coming months, subject to licensing and regulatory approvals. In the meantime, CASINO4FUN® will enable the Company to build its brand and player database and promptly provide these players access to complete the registration process for the BetRivers real-money platform upon launch.”

Will Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky open doors?

Wayne Gretzky is synonymous with Canadian hockey. The Ontario native played in the NHL for 20 seasons before retiring in ’99, just like his jersey.

Now 60 and possibly living in one of his two US homes – he sold his California estate for $17.6 million this year, according to Dirt – Gretzky is still being used to appeal to online sports bettors in Canada and elsewhere.

On Oct. 22, BetMGM Sportsbook representatives sent reporters a preview of the new commercial featuring Gretzky. The ad ends with BetMGM calling itself “The King of Sportsbooks,” though it doesn’t actually hold the top spot in that vertical, even in the US sports betting market. For now, it’s still FanDuel wearing that crown.

Another member of the US Big Three, DraftKings, is also courting Gretzky. On Aug. 17, the operator said the DraftKings Marketplace would debut there with “the Preseason Access Collection of iconic athlete NFTs continues to rollout, including the Wayne Gretzky NFT collection that is particularly relevant for collectors in the country.”

According to DraftKings, Canada is a fantastic market:

“Since the 2012 launch of DraftKings’ daily fantasy product in Canada, customer engagement has been second only to the US, with over 67 million total contest entries across all sports including 11 million for NHL contests.”

Though hockey is one of Canada’s two national sports – the other being lacrosse – it’s not the number one for betting. As in the US, that title seems to be held by football. On Oct. 12, Legal Sports Report noted that nearly half of all Ontario online sports bets were for football.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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