By Tom Nightingale
theScore Chief Operating Officer Benjie Levy is animated when discussing where sports betting might go in Canada.
“We’re tremendously excited by what we’ve achieved so far and what we think we’re going to be able to do going forward in our home country,” says Levy. “More than that, though: this is an astronomical opportunity for the entire Canadian market.”
That opinion voiced by Levy, who runs the day-to-day operations of Canada’s number one digital sports media brand, is one being echoed from all corners of the Canadian gaming industry.
As sports betting legislation continues to be debated in parliament with cross-party support and a wave of momentum behind it, the opportunities are clear if you look at what’s been happening south of the border. Around half of U.S. states now offer some form of legal sports betting, with several taking steps forward just last fall. The success sports wagering has seen is huge, with exponential growth.
theScore has been preparing.
The company’s mobile sportsbook, theScore Bet, was the first to launch in North America and currently operates in four states – New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana, and Iowa – after launching first in New Jersey in September 2019. Market access in a fifth state, Illinois, has recently been secured, and the company has a 20-year partnership deal with Penn National Gaming which gives them the prerogative to offer online and mobile sports betting and iGaming applications in the 11 states where Penn National operates casinos and racetracks.
“Our experience to date in our U.S. markets has reinforced our view that you have to stand for something: you have to be differentiated, you have to be product-led, you have to give consumers something that’s compelling and different,” emphasizes Levy. “Our current operations are just the start. We have a significant market access footprint through our deal with Penn National. As states come online, both within that footprint with Penn and beyond, we’re looking to be active participants in that market. Even with states accelerating their consideration of sports betting, we’re still in the first inning of what this is going to be.”
Integrating betting and sports media
A recurring topic in recent times, with the exponential growth of sports betting in the U.S. and as a prelude to what may come in Canada, has been how sportsbooks and operators can integrate betting and sports media in a single channel. Adding single-event wagers to the current offering of parlay wagers in Canada is one thing, evolving real-time capabilities to combine the betting and the viewing experiences is something else entirely.
“Our legacy is approaching sports in a different way,” explains Levy. “We’ve always looked to cover sports from the perspective of the fan and we’ve always been open and authentic about gambling as being an integral part of the sports experience. We’re not recent converts to the idea of gambling being a part of sports; it has been a part of sport since the beginning of sports.”
For theScore, a key directive has been presenting users with something truly different, taking traditional betting concepts and integrating them into fans’ media experience.
“We didn’t want to just create another standalone betting platform where people are betting and we’re trying to keep them engaged,” says Levy. “No, for us, it’s the opposite: we want to bring the bet to where the users are. We want to have such a deep integration between the two that you’re living in the media app, following your teams and players, building your bet slips, and following your markets. When you have to bet, you head over to the betting platform, place your bet, and then you go right back into your experience. It’s a totally different way of thinking about it.”
That concept is what the company launched in New Jersey. It’s now a multistate operator with a single app and a traveling wallet – a single account infrastructure. Levy cites that as crucial to the platform’s success.
Vast Canadian potential
In the U.S., theScore Bet has to compete with industry giants like DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill. Behind the scenes, numerous operators and providers are preparing attempts to establish a market leadership position.
While many similarities will be drawn and lessons will be learned from south of the border, Canada is a different country, where gaming is regulated province-by-province, and the provinces will be making the decisions on how single-event sports betting is offered within their borders.
Ontario, where the Levy family’s company has its Toronto headquarters, is the fifth-largest jurisdiction in North America by population, behind four U.S. states. Not only that, but the province – particularly the expansive Greater Toronto Area, Golden Horseshoe, and the nation’s capital of Ottawa – is packed full of sports fans. Canada will always be first and foremost hockey country. The Leafs and Senators are ingrained into Ontario culture, and the Toronto Raptors’ thrilling victory with the 2019 NBA Championship captivated the entire country.
“As excited as we are about the U.S. opportunities, Canada is a totally different game,” acknowledges Levy. “When we think about Canadian opportunity, we are just tremendously excited by what it presents. The Canadian market is going to be huge. Ontario is going to be the biggest online gaming jurisdiction in North America, in our view.”
Levy believes theScore Bet will be in “pole position, with the strongest sports media brand and an amazing technology platform.” The brand has clear advantages over most of its competitors – a ubiquitous brand and a highly engaged and loyal user base – should sports betting in Canada advance anywhere near the same as the U.S.”
Levy is thrilled by the progress being made from the perspective of the Ontarian and Canadian gaming markets on the whole. “It’s just so, so massive for the iGaming and sports betting industry in general,” he continues. He praises the provincial governments – particularly Ontario, which he says “really got the ball rolling” – for taking a forward-looking, progressive view on how to structure and set up the market. Many elements still have to be finalized. “But what’s been done to date, both federally and provincially, encouraging a broad-based competitive market, is tremendous.” Indeed, Levy shares the view that this kind of progress in sports betting should give the Canadian gaming industry new life.
“With the number of people and the amount of money involved in betting on sports for years in offshore capacities, the demand is clearly there,” concludes Levy. Canadian bettors are thought to spend around $10 billion per year on single-event betting through illegal bookies and a further $4 billion on international betting websites, according to the Canadian Gaming Association.
“Regulation will bring that demand out into the open and ensure it’s done in a responsible way with renewed protections for responsible gaming and KYC and AML,” Levy notes. “We think the market is just going to flourish in that environment, with responsible operators working hand-in-hand with governments to deliver creative and compelling solutions. We can’t wait to see it thrive and to be a core part of it.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of CGB magazine.