Canadian flag at a national park

Not totally privatized, actually

The long road to legal, privatized online gambling in Ontario is about to end. On Friday, iGaming Ontario (iGO) announced the launch date for operators to start offering games is April 4. There was hope that this would have already happened near the end of 2021, but this is government and online gambling we’re talking about, so it’s no real surprise that things got delayed. Ontarians have waited this long, what’s another few months, right?

And while everything sounds straightforward – operators get licensed and flip the switch – it’s not quite as simple as it seems, not even when compared to the United States. Canadian law states that gambling needs to be “conducted and managed” by the provinces. Therefore, while operators like theScore Bet or BetMGM may get their sites up and running, it is technically illegal for them to run them all by themselves.

Enter iGaming Ontario, which was created to be a bridge of sorts. It will essentially contract with the private operators and things will be setup so that iGaming Ontario will technically “conduct and manage” online gambling.

Though press releases are usually just marketing fluff, iGaming Ontario’s announcement does, in fact, use language that points to the way it will be set up:

Beginning April 4, private gaming operators that have registered with the AGCO and have executed an operating agreement with iGO can begin offering their games to players in Ontario. Companies will operate gaming sites in the market on behalf of the Province in accordance with these agreements.

iGO Executive Director Martha Otton also said, “Today, most internet gaming by Ontarians takes place on websites not conducted and managed by the province. Our new internet gaming market will give consumers enhanced entertainment choice, support the growth of a new, legal market and generate revenue that can help fund programs and services that benefit all of us.”

It remains to be seen how much control iGO will actually have or must have in order for the games to be run in accordance with the law.

Poker takes a hit

But while on the one hand, legalized “private” online gambling in Ontario is exciting, it’s not all good news for online poker players. Because of course it’s not.

According to Online Poker Report, Ontario regulations state that poker sites in the province cannot share liquidity with other jurisdictions. Thus, Ontario poker players will be ring fenced after years of being able to play with other around the world.

Now, Ontario is a very large province – it would be the fifth largest state were it in the U.S., so poker sites should be able to just fine there – but 14.5 million residents is a far cry from billions. So, expect table selection in Ontario to be worse about two months from now, tournament guarantees to be much lower, and game variety to decrease. Casual players, which make up the bulk of the online poker-playing population, should be fine, but pros might feel the pain. We will have to see how it all shakes out.

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