Celebrating 20 years of the Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario

By Tony Rosa and Peter McMahon

In February 2022, the Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario (CGAO) celebrated 20 years of continuous business operation, a remarkable feat when you consider that in the previous 10 years there had been three organizations representing the commercial operators within the charitable gaming sector.

Our history can be broken down into three key pillars: why, what, and where.

Why was the CGAO formed?

After a period of internal debate within the commercial operator sector, it was clear there was not a coherent and aligned approach to the value of a strategic partnership or unified vision for the future of the sector. Thus, after much soul searching, a small group of operators broke away and set about forming the CGAO in early 2002. This would be based on partnership, strategy, advocacy, engagement, and promotion to gain traction and movement for the sector.

Thus, we set about building the foundation on which to re-position the message, the objectives, and vision and set the sector on a path for long-term success.

What has the CGAO accomplished?

The CGAO’s mission statement was to be a reliable and consistent partner that would stand firm and support an aligned approach even when the going got tough. The sector was managing a period of venue consolidation but, long-term, this was not a sustainable strategy. It recognized that it needed to modernize through the introduction of technology. This required a new operational model and alignment that would see a tri-partnership form with the charities, the Crown, and the operators.

In 2005, we launched four eBingo pilots and a few years later added two more in the Windsor marketplace. There were some key lessons learnt through this process in terms of product engagement, customer experience, investment levels, operational framework, and performance measurements. What was clear was we needed to broaden our consumer engagement and product offering within our channel of social/community gaming.

We then forged a joint strategy with our charity partners and developed a Charitable Bingo and Gaming Revitalization Strategy which, since it was deployed, has seen the largest investment by the sector within 50 years, generated 50 per cent increase in jobs, and provided sustainability for 2,200 charity groups that receive direct and immediate funds from the program.

We now have 37 cGaming Venues and 21 Bingo Centres in the province. This has generally remained stable over the last few years after many years of consolidation and has created a unique model where we see commercial operators, community-based charities, the Crown (AGCO and OLG), and municipalities all work together in common cause to a common goal.

Throughout this period of development we have, as an association, focused on supporting and promoting a health and wellness culture within our membership and ensuring this is part of our everyday language and engrained into the venue strategies, with ongoing training and education. We have continued to align, cooperate, and partner with other organizations to promote economic value that the gambling sector brings to the province.

Where is the CGAO going?

We see the first 20 years as only setting the foundation. The transition of the gambling space in that period has been tremendous even before the recent seismic change on April 4 around iGaming and single-event sports betting in the province. We are set for another period of dramatic transformation as the historical silos begin to break down.

We at the CGAO are now focusing our energy on bringing forth the Community Entertainment Venue Concept that will appeal to the casual/local consumers who are seeking a more local, intimate social experience. We need to continue to support and provide platforms for our charities that receive immediate and direct funding and enhance our partnership with the OLG cGaming team in seeking to broaden our consumer experience within social gaming. The CGAO will continue to heighten the profile of the cGaming Sector with its long heritage and legacy in the province of providing a regulated and safe environment for our 2,200 charities and the value this brings in enriching our communities where we reside.

There are, and will continue to be, numerous challenges. We see much turbulence in the coming years but with time and patience, this will flush through the system and rebalance itself. We need to retain the confidence of broader society and that will be achieved through promoting and explaining our unique place within the gambling sector.

The last 20 years have flown by, and it is only when you pause that you reflect on what has been achieved. We have stabilized the cGaming Sector, built solid partnerships, promoted the economic value of the sector, and retained a stable association. This approach has been built on a consensus of members that has allowed us to drive the sector forward. None of this would have been possible without the support and engagement of our primary partners, the OCGA, AGCO, OLG, and municipalities, and we wish to acknowledge them as a part of the journey the CGAO began 20 years ago.

On to 2042 – we wonder how it will all look then.

Tony Rosa is the Chair & President of the Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario and Peter McMahon is the CEO of the Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario.

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