Ontario retail casinos have been at full capacity since Feb 17 and will drop the vaccine mandate on Mar 1

Ontario Casinos At Full Capacity, Will Be Mandate-Free Prior To Online Gambling Launch

As of midnight on Feb. 17, Ontario has lifted many of its COVID-19 restrictions.

This includes capacity limits on casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments. At the moment, that’s only true so long as the establishments require proof of vaccination to enter. However, even that stipulation will be short lived. The province expects to end such requirements on Mar. 1.

Floors of casinos open with iGaming coming soon

This means that in-person gaming will have a chance to reestablish itself before a regulated online options becomes available across the province.

The original launch date for iGaming was December 2021. The regulatory process has proven to be a slog, pushing the launch date back. At first, the new target was February 2022. Ontario almost had things in order for the second date, but not quite. It is now confidently predicting a specific day: Apr. 4.

Ontario’s iGaming push has been gaining steam. Gambling giant Entain has bought its way into the market with recent acquisitions. FansUnite and PointsBet have their operating agreements in place and are ready to go. Even Torstar – owner of several Canadian newspapers including the Toronto Star – has partnered with PlayTech to enter the online gaming industry with a new subsidiary, Northstar Gaming.

It would seem iGaming is set for success as other companies have their paperwork ready and ink drying with sights on the April 4 launch. The opportunity to introduce iGaming to Ontarians at home was missed with their delays.

Will full capacity casinos diminish cannibalization fears?

Some see retail and online gambling as being in competition. From that perspective, retail casinos being open at full capacity may give them a head start on iGaming.

Great Canadian Gaming (GCG) hired gaming, leisure, and hospitality firm HLT Advisory to investigate iGaming’s impacts on brick and mortar casinos. GCG had requested Ontario let casinos control online betting. The report predicts a potential loss of billions of dollars to the province. Based on that, GCG claims that privatized iGaming could cause up to 2600 job losses inside casinos.

GCG requested exclusive rights for at least two years. They pointed to the province with their deal: they could take the time to find unregulated sites and consumers and ensure the system was functioning.

Multiple sources have brushed off GCG concerns citing more hires when online gaming has been regulated. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between who plays at home or from their phone and who frequents gaming establishments.

Ontarians are back in the game

Regardless of the arguments of iGaming and the delays it has had, Ontarians are sure to be back to playing. Accessibility, comfort, and selection are factors as significant as who’s playing.

By the time the province opens up its online market, Ontarians will have enjoyed a full month of restriction-free in-person gaming. The two channels have their respective advantages. Retail casinos offer many more entertainment options than just gaming. On the other hand, iGaming holds the promise of gaming from anywhere within the province.

The closure of US retail casinos in the first wave of COVID led to many Americans discovering a new way to gamble. Will Ontario’s reopening mean a slower iGaming launch?

April 4 is when we will find out how many Ontarians prefer retail, how many want to play online, and how many enjoy both.

- Katy Jean is a columnist and freelance writer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her writing has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and Canadian politics. She is most active from her Twitter account @katynotie.
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