The Ontario igaming market has just about paused for breath after celebrating its first-year anniversary earlier this month, with iGaming Ontario (iGO) revealing a total of 45 operators and 76 gaming sites contributed to $35.5bn in wagers and total revenue of $1.4bn across the last year. But with the market in its early infancy, there is no time to stand still, with new operators and sites already starting to break through. Thomas Louis, CEO of one of the latest brands to rock up in the Canadian province, NEO.bet, spoke to Canadian Gaming Business about moving away from a gray market, liaising with the AGCO and iGO, and shaping its online casino and sports betting offering for Ontarians…
“NEO.bet’s origins lie in the agido Group, a software development company founded in Germany over 20 years ago,” Louis explained. “agido Group developed software for the igaming industry, and about five years ago, the decision to move into the B2C online gambling market was taken and NEO.bet was formed.
“Operating with Maltese and German gambling licenses, NEO.bet has been looking to expand into new markets and when the opportunity to apply for an Ontario license appeared on the horizon, we started looking into the possibility of entering the market. Ontario presents itself as a fantastic new market that we were itching to be a part of. We’ve been planning for it since the beginning of 2022 and over a six-month period, completed the necessary formalities required to apply for the Ontario license.”
Casino product around the corner
NEO.bet now offers sports betting in the province, providing a list of markets across international leagues and major North American sports such as MLB, NHL, NBA, and NFL, with odds available on more than 25 sports and 9,000 live events each month. The brand is also licensed to offer its casino product, which Louis is “itching” to get launched, but work remains ongoing to ensure functionality is “100% on point”.
Nevertheless, NEO.bet’s entrance into the Ontario igaming market was officially announced earlier this month by iGO, which congratulated the brand and operator Reactive Betting for receiving its license by the AGCO in March.
The process of achieving approval from the AGCO can, in itself, be a tough slog, with the Ontario Crown agency’s rigorous and stringent approach to its regulations evident in last week’s decision to fine three operators for breaching several standards.
The standards set in the Canadian province have not been lost on Louis, but the CEO is adamant a collective goal has been a big part of a smooth transition.
“The overall process, while extremely detailed and thorough, provided us great insight into how the AGCO and iGO approach something that we greatly believe in here at NEO.bet – customer welfare.
“The AGCO and iGO have been very clear and precise on their requirements and how they expect companies to adhere to them.
“That may appear like a huge challenge but, in reality, it makes the job simple because it explicitly spells out what we have to do to be a part of the Ontario market.
“We had to bring in adaptations with respect to KYC, geolocation and reporting requirements but these are elements that are vital for any market – not just Ontario. The AGCO and iGO have been extremely cooperative throughout the entire process, patiently walking us through compliance requirements and guidelines, and ensuring that we have all the information we require to make the right decisions.
“In the end, we realise that we all have the same primary goal – to create a safe and secure environment where our customers can safely enjoy sports betting and gambling. When everyone is working towards the same goal, the journey becomes simpler and more enjoyable.”
Player protection is key
That commitment to the customer is something prevalent in the answers of Louis, who points towards the push for big profits in other markets as a vehicle for scaring off players from sports betting.
Ontario, though, presents itself much differently, says Louis, who is steadfast in his belief that NEO.bet is built upon principles aligned to Ontario; sustainability, safe play and fairness.
“Ontario has regulations in place that take care of a lot of these problems that sports betting companies create for themselves. Ontario regulations curb the aggression and explosive nature of incentives and advertising that operators tend to live by which, in turn, levels out the market a little.
“Moreover, Ontario has an extremely diverse population and the Canadian immigration policy truly shows up in Ontario. That means there’s room for sports and events that aren’t traditionally North American sports markets and that’s one of the biggest attractions that makes it very easy for NEO.bet to make the transition from Europe to Canada, with little change in the way we operate.
“Additionally, the process of creating a product for the North American market isn’t simply about changing the way the odds are represented or what sports are offered, it’s about delivering a product, and support around the product, that meets the expectations of Canadians. There are differences between North American sports bettors and European sports bettors, and then there are characteristics unique to Canadian sports bettors, amongst the larger North American sports betting player profile.
“We understand and appreciate the values and choices of Canadians when creating a product and we hope that our customers in Ontario will appreciate the obvious, and sometimes subtle, ways in which we’ve enhanced NEO.bet for the Canadian market.”
Leave gray markets in the dust
Louis, meanwhile, is eager to see other provinces follow the same path as Ontario, to allow NEO.bet to expand its audience and ensure a coordinated approach to gaming in Canada.
“There are many things about a gray market that we, as a company, do not like. We have always been dedicated to AML and ATF practices, but gray markets completely blur the lines and make it extremely easy for less-than-ideal situations to arise with very few avenues for customers to expect fairness in dealings.
“As we’ve mentioned before, customer safety and security is our primary concern and the more secure our customers feel, the more likely they are to play. Gray markets do more to deter customers than they do to attract them. We would be happy if other provinces opened themselves up to licensing as well, as that ensures a clear, transparent and safe environment for all parties involved.”