From April 4, private gaming operators that have registered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and have executed an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario, a subsidiary of the AGCO, can begin to offer its games to players within the region.

Taking us on a tour of the Canadian igaming landscape, David Little, co-founder at Lightning Box, spoke on the influence of how the Private Members Bill C-218 to legalise event sports betting receiving Royal Assent impacts the online slot sector, what obstacles could occur to hinder suppliers entering the market and lessons that could be taken from the US. 

SlotBeats: The regulated market within Canada is split, can you delve into the different regions and explain what the slot landscape is for each and the different types of slots players prefer to play? 

David Little: Canada is split into 10 different provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Alberta. 

Each province has its own regulatory body, each with its own take on which gambling activities are permitted to those who reside there. Some are more liberal than others, with provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario offering online slots through state-run sites such as Playnow, Escapejeux and OLG. 

In other provinces, players do not have access to state-run casinos, but have the ability to access offshore casinos that are part of the grey market, which is estimated to be worth $1bn. 

In terms of the slots on offer, Canadians have access to almost all of the same games that are popular in key regulated markets. There’s a particularly keen appetite for progressive jackpots and classic slots that mimic those you might find in a land-based casino. That hardly comes as a surprise as they are games Canadians are used to in the established land-based market. 

SB: 2021 saw Private Members Bill C-218 to legalise single event sports betting in Canada receive Royal Assent, though this impacts sports betting, what could stem from this decision in relation to the online slot sector? 

DL: Any bill that liberalises a specific form of betting, regardless of the vertical can only be good news for the online slot sector. Canada had been in the dark for some years with regards to gambling regulation. 

Tidying it up and giving the provinces the ability to independently regulate puts them in the driving seat to benefit financially, as opposed to money going offshore. C-218 should act as a green light for everyone in Canada telling them that online wagering, regardless of vertical, is safe, regulated and here to stay. 

It will also show lawmakers in provinces that are perhaps undecided about online slots that a well-regulated product can take market share from offshore operators, who are currently enjoying all of the business to themselves. 

Ultimately, the industry would like to turn that grey market into a fully regulated Canadian marketplace, and this bill is vital to changing attitudes, showcasing an example of responsible gambling, and moving things forward.

SB: We’ve seen quite a bit of noise coming from North America with more and more states opening up to online gaming, yet how important will the Canadian market be in the coming years? 

DL: It’s estimated that the Canadian igaming market alone could be worth $2.4bn by 2030, assuming that all goes to plan with regards to all 10 provinces opening up to offering online services. 

There are some seriously big players in the USA that are already well-positioned to enter the market such as DraftKings, Caesars and BetMGM. 

Provinces like Ontario have almost double the population of New Jersey. It is also larger than Pennsylvania and there are two key betting markets in the US, so when you look at it from that perspective, the opportunities available in Canada in the coming years are huge.

SB: What could hinder suppliers from entering the Canadian online market?

DL: Canada is a highly active and mature market. Players already know their way around online casinos and slots because of offshore operators that have served players for many years. In that sense, there’s very little suppliers need to worry about in terms of convincing them that their titles are worth playing.  

As is the case in the United States, it’s a challenge having to cater to individual markets with their own regulatory framework one by one, as opposed to dealing with just one. It’s a time-consuming process, but ultimately meeting the conditions required is a small price to pay to enter such a potentially lucrative market. 

It may be that certain provinces will have different conditions to online slot play when they eventually do open up, but again, that’s something we’ve had to deal with in other markets in recent months. It’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before. 

SB: What lessons could Canada learn from its neighbour? 

DL: It’s absolutely vital that if operators in Canada are to have any success they must collaborate with their European (and even American) counterparts, who have already built-up extensive experience in successfully running online casino brands. 

It would be easy for many to follow the same models that brought them success in land-based gaming across Canada, and much of it will undoubtedly be transferable. But there is a wealth of historic experience in Europe and lots of recent evidence across the border which will be helpful

SB: Looking towards 2022, what can people within the industry expect from Canada in relation to slots?

DL: It’s fair to say that the Canadian regulated market is still in its infancy right now, but things are slowly starting to pick up pace, especially as players begin to fully come around the idea of playing at government owned/run sites as opposed to offshore. 

Naturally, there’s some scepticism towards any new product that enters the market, regardless of the industry, but with time comes trust. It looks like Saskatchewan will launch online gambling in 2022, launching a site run by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. 

This welcome move will provide suppliers with the opportunity to get on board, further highlighting the opportunities that can be had within a regulated market.

2021 proved to be the initial launching pad for suppliers to be part of something monumental in provinces such as Ontario. 2022 is going to be the year that really sees slots take the entire country by storm. 

As long as suppliers are getting their games in front of the right people on the right platforms, they could set themselves up for a very successful future.