SBC Summit Barcelona: Ontario still has ‘huge potential’ despite ‘disappointing’ start

Many industry onlookers were underwhelmed when iGaming Ontario finally published the first quarter figures for the market in August. Indeed, $162m in GGR was probably disappointing at first glance when considering the excitement of the market’s launch back in April. But has this put off outsiders who are weighing up whether to launch in Ontario after a ‘messy and scrappy’ opening few months? You better believe it hasn’t. 

William Woodhams, CEO of Fitzdares, delivered an impassioned defence of Ontario’s opening figures and expressed the excitement of his company’s launch in the province, its first international launch outside of the UK & Ireland, and the one reason above all why he is so excited. 

“The number one reason to go into Ontario is Canadians who are awesome,” Woodhams explained. 

“It’s been a s***show (but) it’s been great because it’s what happens when new markets open. It’s what happens when you have a regulator that’s pretty open-minded. They’ve allowed a lot of those grey operators to transition over; then you’re gonna see a lot of tax revenue for the province. It’s really exciting. 

“And also, this is the main part. They (Canadians) bet a lot. Canadians are rich, they’re really rich, they’re cool, and they’re rich. I have to say if you don’t go to Ontario, you don’t get it. From the Fairmont Hotel, you can see every sporting venue in the city, you could throw a hockey puck, basically every sporting venue of the city. When the Blue Jays play, downtown is awash with sport.”

Joining Woodhams on the panel, moderated by CGA President Paul Burns, was Matej Nemec, Commercial Director for Oryx Gaming; Melanie Hainzer, CMO at Rootz; and Martin Lycka, SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain

Nemec chimed in on the debate and while he didn’t express quite the same exuberance as Woodhams, he did note that there is ‘huge potential’ in Ontario at this early stage. 

He noted: “It’s going to be an amazing market, but it’s not an amazing market yet. From our point of view, being a supplier from day one and in Ontario, early in April, we were expecting more to be very, very direct. 

“Now seeing the numbers that were published, we still see that there’s a huge potential, most likely there’s 30-35% of the overall traffic that existed before, is now part of the regulation.”

Nemec also touched on the regulatory difference between Ontario and the European market, noting that he wishes to see the transition from the grey market, now confirmed by the AGCO, to occur ‘sooner or later’. 

Hainzer, also representing a European company in Rootz, explained that she is ‘excited’ to see how Ontario develops as more players become educated on igaming, ahead of the operator’s launch in the future. 

She noted: “I spent the summer also six weeks in Canada, and just had an awesome experience. And we are a European operator; we are in a transition period. So we haven’t had the big push yet in the market. 

“I’m super excited about the semi-mature market going on the regulation, we don’t have to educate the players, which we have some other markets that are newly regulating. So I do expect that we’re gonna be quite heavily focused on Ontario. We’re gonna do greater because we have a very good product, and I can’t wait to actually get the license soon.”

The panel then moved on to a deeper analysis of the iGaming Ontario figures, including the market’s total Q1 handle of $4.1bn and revenues of $162m, minus OLG figures. 

Whilst many were eager to express their disappointment in those numbers, with comparisons made to Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Martin Lycka staunchly defended the performance, labelling the market’s first quarter as a ‘roaring success’.

He explained: “The fact that in the first quarter, they brought in some 30 sites and 17 operators, so it’s been from that perspective, a roaring success, in my view. Plus to address your point about the numbers. How it’s been presented, especially in the US media, because they’re comparing apples and pears or to use sporting analogy pucks with footballs, which makes absolutely no sense. 

“You know, compare those numbers with Jersey back in 2013 and Pennsylvania back in 2019, Michigan 2-19 or 2020. That’s the real comparator. And I believe the numbers have been great. And they have most certainly exceeded the expectation of the Ontario government.”

Finally, the topic of advertising and inducements took centre stage with moderator Burns asking whether such restrictions placed on marketing will have a positive or negative impact on the market. 

A regulatory and responsible gambling stalwart, Lycka suggested the AGCO may want to ‘revisit the issue’ of those inducement restrictions, noting that the regulators should ‘be more sensible about it, perhaps allow some forms of inducements or redefine what inducements are.”

Hainzer was in agreement with Lycka that the issue of bonuses and inducements must be altered, hinting that the industry must be willing to talk about such restrictions. 

She remarked: “We have been very successful in the German market using influencer marketing, however, with that ban on inducements and inducements and bonuses, it is very hard to work with influencers because what can they say what is already an inducement? 

“It would be great to open up there a little bit; talk with industry leaders and maybe make some adjustments in this way to make it work for both sides and just have like a little bit of flexibility in that sense.”

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