Byron Bridger, Light & Wonder’s Managing Director for Canada (igaming), takes an overview of Ontario’s regulated market and explains why he believes Asian-themed games have a major role to play in entertaining players within safe and secure operator environments.
The opening up of the market in Ontario was only possible thanks to almost three years of painstaking work undertaken by the provincial government.
The potential for a wider gaming ecosystem, one that builds on and expands the good work produced by lottery provider OLG, is clear. A recent study predicted that Ontario’s online casino and sports betting market will achieve GGR of $1.25bn this year, rising to $2.54bn by 2026.
As the biggest province in Canada, home to around 40 per cent of the country’s entire population, the opportunities for those entering one of North America’s most hotly tipped territories are huge.
However, as with many online markets that regulate for the first time, there have been teething troubles since business officially opened on April 4, 2022.
Unlike in the U.S., where customers are presented with sign-up incentives across an array of marketing channels, Ontario has taken a strict position in prohibiting such promotional activity anywhere other than on operator websites. This could mean that many existing bettors and players remain unaware that legal betting and gaming options exist, instead opting to continue playing on the unregulated sites they previously utilised.
What is needed is a strong drive to direct players towards regulated sites, which offer the best and safest forms of casino entertainment.
From Light & Wonder’s perspective, it is incumbent that we continue to aid the growth of Ontario’s legal gaming sector by giving players at our operator partner sites the best possible experience. We believe that knowing what sort of content will resonate with Ontarians is vital, potentially making the difference between success and average performance for operators in the nascent market.
Asian-themed games certainly form a core part of any online offering in the province, given the trends we have seen emerge across other markets in North America. As well as compelling data that such games are already in demand across Canada both online and in land-based environments, the large Asian population in Ontario also indicates that such content will prove to be highly successful, provided it is of the highest quality.
At Light & Wonder, we have found that over half of all our online players in Michigan and New Jersey played at least one Asian-themed game across a six-month period. That is highly significant and we believe that the historically strong performance of this game type in the land-based sector is having a crossover effect on igaming content and activity.
Across North America, the picture is broadly one of a player set that has only ever previously been exposed to land-based gaming, so it naturally follows that Asian-themed games that strike a chord in brick-and-mortar casinos will translate successfully to online. Having adapted our Asian-themed land-based content with success to date in the US and Canada, we are confident that this will also be the case in Ontario.
The major advantage we have over many competitors in shaping our offering to a new market is that we are both an aggregator and content developer. This means we have access to a swathe of market data and insight that can be utilised to fine-tune our roadmap in line with player preferences in any given jurisdiction.
The early data we have seen indicates that our strategy is bringing success. Four of our top ten games in Ontario are Asian-themed, with Ji Bao Xi Endless Treasure being the most-played Light & Wonder slot. Strong brand awareness of these proven titles engenders confidence in the product for operators, while players will immediately feel comfortable at seeing instantly recognisable content in relatively unfamiliar digital environments. Crucially, these titles also have a major role to play in creating a true omnichannel experience.
Immediate, resounding and unfettered success was never a realistic expectation at this stage for Ontario’s legal market. We believe that ultimately, legal operators will prove to be successful in acquiring and retaining players with a wide range of content that truly engages and entertains and it is within our remit at Light & Wonder to provide exactly that.
As the picture continues to emerge in the province, one thing abundantly clear even at this early stage is that the heritage and continued popularity of Asian-themed games mean they will continue to excel in the digital space.
Byron Bridger will appear on the panel for a discussion entitled ‘Ontario: The huge potential’ at the Casino Beats Summit on May 24-26.