By Tom Nightingale
As Canada’s sports betting market prepares for seismic change and expansive opportunity, PointsBet Canada is ready to help lead the way.
The bookmaker, originally founded in Australia, is bringing its expertise and experience from the Australian and U.S. markets north of the border and recently joined the Canadian Gaming Association. Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky is passionate in his assessment of where both the company and the Canadian market can go from here.
“What excites me is taking PointsBet’s best-in-class product and marrying that with their mature gaming experience in Australia and their success in America,” Sulsky told Canadian Gaming Business. “That’s the sweet spot I think PointsBet Canada is starting out with, and the reality of what I think a truly identifiably Canadian gaming operation can become.”
Steeped in experience
PointsBet was founded in Australia in 2015 as a corporate bookmaker that offers a scalable cloud-based platform and innovative sports wagering products. It waded into the U.S. market in January 2019 with little brand visibility and made a name for itself, thanks in no small part to what Sulsky terms “a distinct business unit and team filled with best-in-class Americans.”
The company expanded through the U.S. from New Jersey into Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, its North American headquarters of Colorado, and most recently Michigan. Market access has already been secured in numerous other states, and the company just launched its inaugural online casino product in Michigan, which it also intends to take live in New Jersey soon.
That progress stands it in good stead for what is certain to be a highly competitive Canadian market. NFL, NBA, and other U.S. sports have a large market in PointsBet’s Australian home, and the company says that familiarity helped them grow and thrive upon arrival in the U.S. They are looking to lean on similar immersion as they move northwards.
In preparation for the Canadian front, the company recruited Sulsky, the former president of U.S. daily fantasy sports giant Monkey Knife Fight, as its first senior hire north of the border just a few weeks ago. It described the move as the first step towards building a best-in-class Canadian leadership.
“The opportunity to replicate the model and success they’ve had in the States really excited me,” Sulsky says. “We’re replicating the same structure and philosophy to build the best-in-class business in Canada, hiring best-in-class Canadians based on top of an incredible technology stamp. We want to build a distinct business.”
But Canada is not just another New Jersey, emphasizes Sulsky, and he should know.
Sulsky’s experience with Monkey Knife Fight may be U.S.-based, but he is, in his own words “passionately Canadian.” Born in Montreal, Sulsky attended university in Atlantic Canada and has lived in Toronto for the last 21 years while operating U.S. business for close to a decade. He describes himself as probably the only gaming operator in the country who has driven every inch of the TransCanada Highway. “I know what the sports fan in Regina likes versus Halifax,” he says, noting that he is not over-confident so much as deeply in love with his country and its people.
While his gaming and betting expertise are obviously vital, Sulsky opines that his love for Canada and inside-out knowledge of the Canadian market and landscape will prove a valuable asset in the competitive regulated sports betting market.
“I don’t think a lot of other operators truly understand what it means to be Canadian,” he says “We’re a unique market of distinct people who love specific things, it’s not just an offshoot of America. You can’t take what you’ve learned in the States and simply apply it to Canada. If you don’t live and breathe Canada, it’s going to be a challenge. You need to know the nuances, like The Tragically Hip is Canada’s favourite band. That’s the world to Canada and you can’t take it for granted.”
To that point, PointsBet Canada will tailor its Canadian offerings to the market. Sulsky explains that users won’t be hit with the New York Yankees or the LA Lakers on their main home page unless they ask for it. “It will be tailored to the sports that drive that market you’re in and make up the local sporting culture.”
But while Canada is no carbon copy of the U.S., there are still lessons to draw upon. For one, Sulsky intends to use the experiences of his work at Monkey Knife Fight to build PointsBet Canada as a compelling brand with a distinct voice. “With Monkey Knife Fight, we were able to connect in a genuine fashion with the U.S. sports bettor, and I believe that experience is going to translate well to PointsBet in Canada.
Moving ahead, while Sulsky doesn’t spill PointsBet Canada’s secrets, he says their strategy in Canada will be one of “measured aggression.”
In a highly competitive regulated market, building a competitive sports bet brand in Canada will be a marathon, not a sprint. While Sulsky, as a sports and betting enthusiast and a proud Canadian, relishes the thought of competition, he warns there may be a few “Targets” in the Canadian market, referring to the U.S. retailer which suffered an unfortunate demise north of the border.
“The question is how many of the operators entering the market in the next few months will still be here three or five years down the road. How many sports betting companies will understand the experiences of Target in this country? There aren’t that many operators opening up and building distinct Canadian companies, operations, and teams.”
Trust Sulsky to use a classic Canadian analogy. “I think being genuine and authentic in the gaming space is going to be like adding gravy and cheese curds to French fries.”
Regulated single-event sports betting is only just getting out of the gate in Canada, and there’s a long path to be walked over the next weeks, months, and years. Yet already it’s clear the opportunities are significant and plentiful, and Sulsky is keen to stress that they stretch far beyond the basics of tax revenues and responsible gaming. He insists regulation and further legalization will help create a foundation for a better Canadian sports and social landscape from top to bottom.
“I want to see, five years from now, the sports betting industry en masse being the key driver for the growth of Canadian sport in general,” Sulsky concludes. “There’s so much good to come from funnelling all the benefits into not only the media and gaming ecosystem but also philanthropic causes and the weeds of the Canadian sports fabric. Let’s protect people and create jobs, tax revenues, better training, better education, and better facilities. That’s what this is all about.”