For over two decades, Jean Major has been a mainstay of major regulatory agencies in Ontario. With a total of 33 years of experience with the Ontario Public Service, Major has spent 24 of those years at the forefront of the gaming and racing regulatory agencies in the province.
Major’s career in the gaming industry began in 1990, when he became the manager responsible for regulating charitable gaming in Ontario. In 1994, as Executive Director and CEO of the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC), Major brought about significant changes to the regulatory framework governing horse racing through new legislation.
In 2004, Major was appointed CEO and Registrar of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). Since then, he has led significant regulatory changes to the alcohol and gaming industries in the province, including important changes to regulation and the development of a regulatory framework for lotteries and internet gaming.
What areas of your role as CEO of AGCO are the most challenging for you personally and what are you most looking forward to accomplishing in the near future?
The AGCO is the product of three legacy agencies: Gaming Control Commission, Liquor Licence Board of Ontario and the Ontario Racing Commission. All three agencies have different histories and cultures. The AGCO is celebrating its 20th year and one of my biggest challenges has been to integrate these three agencies into one cohesive regulatory body that can still be flexible enough to continue to accommodate the inherent differences and cultures in these three industries. I am looking forward to continuing to work with staff and our stakeholders as we move forward with a risk-based, outcomes-based and compliance-focused regulatory model across all the industries we regulate over the next several years.
What are the most personally rewarding aspects of working in a leadership role in the Canadian gaming industry and why?
I have never seen the regulator’s role as being isolated or narrow. The regulator’s role is clear and at its core is intended to protect the public interest, which is composed of a variety of interests (e.g. player/consumer, charity, operator, economic, government, etc.). Balancing these various interests is extremely complex and always in motion and that makes my job interesting and extremely rewarding (and frustrating at times).
In what ways has your experience prepared you for your role at AGCO?
Frankly, I do not think there is anything that can prepare you for what I have experienced as a regulator in this province. I have regulated gaming (including horseracing) in Ontario for 28 years. In that time, I have seen significant policy shifts that fundamentally altered the gaming marketplace in Ontario. My job during these past 28 years has certainly been to regulate but also to help shape the marketplace in the absence of an overarching gaming strategy that balances the interests of the Crown in commercial gaming/lotteries, charitable gaming and horseracing.
What’s your vision for the future of AGCO and its role in the gaming community in the province and Canada?
The AGCO has been adjusting its approach over the past number of years to one that is risk-based, outcomes-based, and compliance-focused. We are interested in the achievement of the regulatory outcome instead of compliance with prescriptive rules. This approach is relatively new in Canada and we continue to learn and adjust our plans as we proceed. My vision for the AGCO is for it to continue to be a leader in innovative regulatory approaches so we can foster the best and safest gaming environment for the public and gaming industry participants. The underlying philosophy of our approach is to execute our mandate in protecting the public interest in a manner that minimizes our footprint on business.
What do you believe are the greatest growth opportunities for gaming in Canada and why?
The gaming industry in Ontario has matured considerably since the first casinos opened in 1993. We are currently experiencing a period of significant change throughout the Ontario gaming sector with the introduction of private sector operators in commercial gaming marketplace and the introduction of an electronic raffles framework for the charitable gaming sector. Other growth opportunities will likely result from continually evolving technologies and changing consumer preferences for offerings like skill-based games. Online gambling has grown significantly over the past several years, presenting both a challenge and potential market opportunity in the years to come. From my perspective, however, we will not likely be able to fully take advantage of these growth opportunities without amendments to the Criminal Code.
What are the greatest challenges facing the Canadian gaming industry today and how do you think they should be addressed?
The challenges include: illegal/unregulated online gambling, anticipated new offerings in sports betting in the United States and changing demographics and customer preferences for exciting gambling products (DFS, eSports, etc.). To remain competitive in today’s gaming market, operators need regulatory flexibly to adapt to external pressures and technological innovations while at the same time not compromising on high regulatory standards. This is another reason why the AGCO has moved to standards-based regulation in recent years.
However, as I mentioned before, amendments to the Criminal Code would be required to permit new opportunities like single sports betting or to take meaningful action toward illegal/unregulated internet gaming.
What have been some of AGCO’s most recent developments and how do you think these developments will impact the gaming industry as a whole?
The AGCO’s standards-based approach has been in place for a handful of years now, and is intended to provide operators with flexibility to design control activities to address regulatory outcomes. The standards will continue to evolve and provide more opportunities for business flexibility.
The AGCO is placing greater emphasis on data analytics to define risk and determine the most efficient and effective approach to compliance activities.
Finally, the AGCO is providing increasing online services through our iAGCO platform. iAGCO is already serving our liquor customers, and we are currently planning the roll out to gaming operators and suppliers, lottery sellers, and gaming assistants later this year.
What is AGCO’s philosophy for ensuring the best and safest gaming experience for the gaming consumer, government stakeholders and the gaming community?
The AGCO’s mandate is to regulate the alcohol, gaming and horse racing sectors in the public interest. While this means the AGCO is clearly focused on ensuring honesty, integrity, and consumer protection, it also means we work to take into account consumer interests, changing societal expectations, government priorities and business impacts. We do this by knowing our stakeholders, engaging in a two-way dialogue with them regularly and, prioritizing our education and training efforts for licensees and registrants to increase compliance.
AGCO’s regulatory framework and our compliance activities work to protect consumers by ensuring games perform with integrity, gaming sites are safe and responsible gaming controls are in place. The framework also protects government assets and interests and provides a fair, transparent and flexible system for the gaming community to operate within.