Playtech regulatory head Charmaine Hogan discusses Ontario leading the way

The CEO of betting software development provider Playtech, Mor Weizer, recently highlighted North America as the company’s biggest focus for operational expansion in the near future. The company has certainly been taking steps in that direction. In recent months, it has laid the foundations for its U.S. business to become one of its biggest growth drivers by doubling revenues in the region.

In Canada, as Ontario gears up to launch its regulated online gaming and betting market on April 4, Playtech has also been striking deals. A notable recent alignment saw it sign on to enter Canada by providing its platform and tools to power made-in-Ontario brand NorthStar Gaming’s online casino infrastructure through its launch in the province. The partnership with NorthStar, which is also uniting with other market leaders such as Kambi and Torstar Corporation, is a signal of Playtech’s intent to be a major player in the market moving forward.

Establishing this position means keeping abreast of regulatory discussions in the market. That’s the remit of Charmaine Hogan, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Playtech, who assesses the rules, regulations, and processes of new and emerging gaming markets and helps to determine the company’s road to entry.

Hogan has helped to oversee Playtech’s recent growth in the U.S. but, naturally, she has been very focused on Canada and Ontario in recent months. Canadian Gaming Business spoke to Hogan about recent developments and how Playtech is positioning itself for a role in Canada’s new gaming world.

*Some responses have been edited and condensed.

Has Playtech learned any lessons in the ever-expanding U.S. gaming market in recent times?

“One thing is that you’re seeing constant evolution of gaming offerings. The U.S. has been a leading example. Coming into 2022, we launched two state-of-the-art live casino facilities in Michigan and New Jersey with key operators. That was a landmark moment for us and for our strategic development in North America. Live casino is an increasingly popular product in its own right; wherever it launches it does fantastically well. We have also signed strategic distribution agreements with the likes of Scientific Games, IGT, Novomatic North America. What is important for us and is working for us is that we have adopted a state-by-state approach in the U.S., and it is working.”

What do you expect to see in Canada, which is leaving the rollout up to the provinces?

“Every market is different, sometimes very different. It’s highly interesting in Canada vs. the States. Many U.S. states went from zero to 60 on gaming, so to speak. But Ontario is not completely new as an iGaming market, and we have been focused on that market for some time now, keenly following the development and getting to know the regulator and the regulations. Ultimately, though, any new regulated market comes with its own challenges, even if there are tried-and-tested examples out there to follow. In an online, technological environment, small adjustments can be very big changes, and there are often no binary answers.”

Narrowing the focus to Ontario, how is Playtech mapping out the road towards the April 4 launch date and beyond?

“Ontario is our obvious focus, as it is for so many in the industry, as it is the province moving with speed. Our priority now is to register as a supplier in Ontario and we will look to support as many licensees as possible in the market. Entering into partnerships with known entities like we did with NorthStar is key, too. We have a slate of key offerings through our IMS player-management software platform, delivering key products like sports betting, online gaming, live casino, and constant support through the provision of that service. We will focus on operators that are moving forward with their operational registration process ahead of the April 4 launch date. You want to hit the ground running and be one of the first to enter the market and do it correctly.

“It’s exciting for us because Ontario is going to be so big. What we – and I think the industry in general – has liked about it is that there has been this ongoing consultation process for so long. That is key because you want to enter the market and you want the regulatory framework to be efficient. It takes an investment to enter a market and you want to recoup that investment, but if that market is not able to onboard a sufficient number of players, the market is not functioning and you are not recouping your investment.”

Given the importance of that consultation process, why was joining the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) in late 2021 a priority?

“We had eyes on joining the CGA for a while but it’s even more relevant now because you have to be registered as a supplier in Ontario. You want to be close to the processes and the discussions around the development of the market, because those discussions feed into the regulatory processes. The CGA is a known and respected entity with a broad membership base so it brings various views to the table, which can only be a good thing. As well as gaining the knowledge and insight it offers, we want to help share information and research findings to help the discussions be more evidence-led. Collaboration is so important – not just operators, suppliers, and regulators but academics, researchers, politicians, policymakers. The strong emphasis on responsible gambling from the outset has been fantastic, too. You want to not only meet those high standards but to champion them, and that’s what the CGA does.”

What do you see ahead after Ontario raises the curtain?

“Everyone is looking at Ontario and will continue to look toward Ontario on the key items – watching what the province does, the potential mistakes or drawbacks of its model, the successes, the challenges. I expect each province will look at not just the regulators, the operators, and the suppliers but the revenue figures, the number of players that onboard, the repercussions and then make its own decisions as to where it makes sense to go.

“As provinces keep a close watchful eye on Ontario, we will be keeping a close watchful eye on other provinces and will seek to engage constructively wherever we can and as early as we can, and ultimately respect where each province wants to go. To an extent, an online environment will always be a cross-border movement so there will be some commonalities. You want to regulate and regulate sensibly to have players in the market under your control and oversight. We are ready to engage and go with wherever Canada goes. Ontario is a huge, huge opportunity, but it’s just the start.”

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