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AGCO releases Compliance Approach guide for Ontario iGaming

November 17, 2021

On November 15, 2021, the AGCO released their Compliance Approach guide meant for operators and gaming suppliers that wish to serve the residents of Ontario.  While much of the overall document contains very dry technical information and testing requirements for various critical systems for an iCasino or online sports betting operation, there are some key points of interest that have been outlined in the guide that inform us about how the legal Ontario sports betting market will take shape and how some providers will be affected. 

These include: 1) rules (or lack thereof) with regard to marketing, 2) the issue of companies exiting their 'grey' Ontario operations, 3) the AGCO approach to non-compliance and 4) the issue of new betting games that may encourage excessive player risk.

 

No Ontario sports betting marketing restrictions... yet

Of the gaming companies that are interested in becoming legal sportsbook operators in Ontario, several have been in dialogue with iGaming Ontario and the AGCO to lobby for the ability to introduce themselves to Ontario customers through all typical marketing channels. 

With its uncapped licensing scheme, Ontario is looking to create one of the most competitive legal sports betting and iGaming markets in the world.  As such, it would make little sense to have tight marketing restrictions at the time of market launch.  However, the AGCO has forewarned operators that they reserve the right to tighten marketing restrictions as the industry and market develops:

Volume of advertising and market activity and exposure of minors:

The AGCO has not established specific regulatory limits or restrictions on advertising and marketing around overall volume, types of channels, or timing. However, based on our monitoring of industry activity in the months ahead, we will consider additional measures if warranted.

 

Which ad campaigns will dominate soon after the iGaming Ontario launch?

The lack of marketing channel, timing and volume restrictions is a boost to operators that have large marketing budgets such as FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM. This will help them to compensate for a lack of significant brand heritage in the province compared to incumbent 'grey market' brands that have been operating for many years.  We can thus expect large TV, radio and outdoor campaigns for these sports betting brands that are looking to enter Ontario (and Canada) for the first time, especially while the rules are relaxed.  Other jurisdictions have tightened gambling ad restrictions as their markets matured.  

Expect these operators to take advantage while they can, before similar restrictions take place in Ontario.  The one thing operators will not be able to advertise on any form of media, from the outset of the market opening are player "inducements".  Often referred to as; "new customer offers", these or other Canadian sportsbook bonuses may be offered at the given Ontario operator platforms, but may not be advertised, listed or even referred to generally - off of their platforms.

 

The AGCO will be watching to ensure all licensed companies exit their 'grey market' Ontario operations

The AGCO wants to make sure that all their operators stay fully in the legal market and are not holding back with related 'grey market' offshore operations that might be based in Gibraltar, Malta or elsewhere. Here is the pertinent excerpt from the Compliance guide:

Exiting the unregulated igaming market in Ontario:

We will be monitoring registrant compliance with the requirement that a) they cease unregulated market operations in Ontario and b) terminate any association they may have with any other company that operates an unregulated scheme in Ontario.

 

Which sportsbook brands are & are not affected by this AGCO monitoring?

For operators that essentially have a single brand in the Canadian market, this won't affect them.  Gaming companies like bet365, Betway or BetVictor will simply be able to enter Ontario with their one licensed brand, as they don't have other brands at issue.  This gets more complicated for gaming companies that have several entrants in the Canadian and Ontario 'grey market':

Kindred Group has announced that both of their main sports betting brands, Unibet and 32Red will be entering Ontario.  However, Kindred does offer their MariaCasino.com and Bingo.com products to Canada and Ontario from the 'grey market' at the time of writing.  So based on the Compliance guide, these brands will also need Ontario iGaming licenses or must cease to serve Ontario, if Unibet and 32Red are to operate lawfully in the province.

Entain owns 50% of BetMGM, which we know intends to enter Ontario. Entain also owns 'Bwin' which operates in Ontario and across Canada from the 'grey market' jurisdictions of Malta and Gibraltar.  The AGCO will be monitoring Entain's 'Bwin' to ensure that they gain a license, or stop serving Ontario.

Flutter owns FanDuel, which we know is entering Ontario. Flutter also operates PokerStars which currently offers poker, casino and sports betting to players across Canada from the 'grey market' in Malta. Flutter will certainly be looking to get Ontario licenses for both brands, and we have seen them hiring for at least one compliance-related iCasino role in Toronto for PokerStars.

888 Holdings recently purchased all of William Hill's international online properties.  In terms of sports betting properties, 888sport.com, WilliamHill.com and MrGreen.com all serve Canada and Ontario from the 'grey market'.  If 888 Holdings wishes to serve Ontario in a legal capacity through all these brands, they will need to get licenses for all.  Otherwise, some of these brands will need to stop serving Ontario players.

Betsson AB operates 'Betsafe', a brand that really targets Canada with a 'Canadian' site version and lots of recent media buys. Betsafe will most assuredly enter the Ontario market with a license, but several Betsson AB sports betting brands serve players in Ontario and Canada from the 'grey market' jurisdiction of Malta. Once the legal Ontario market opens, assuming Betsafe is the only brand that they intend to operate in Ontario, Betsson AB will need to ensure that their other brands do not serve Ontario players to be in full compliance with the AGCO. 

 

What is the AGCO approach to non-compliance?

Whether it is for the above issue of exiting 'grey market' Ontario operations or any other compliance issue, the AGCO lists the following about their approach to remedy operators that exhibit non-compliance:

Our compliance approach involves working collaboratively with Operators and GRSs to maintain or, if necessary, re-establish compliance. Where regulatory expectations are not met, the AGCO may use a full spectrum of compliance responses to achieve those goals, including education, warnings, financial penalties, suspensions, and, in the most serious cases, revocations. In cases where severe incidents occur, the AGCO will act proportionately to ensure the public is protected.

 

The AGCO wants to monitor & prevent riskier games

From a technical perspective, the AGCO has outlined a lot of typical regulatory mandates with regard to internal controls, responsible gaming, minors, suspicious or criminal activity and issues of security and privacy.  One issue that piqued our interest pertains to Game Design and Integrity:

Game designs and features are helping to prevent extended, continuous, and impulsive play and facilitate low risk play behaviours, including losses are not disguised as wins, and the player’s net position is clearly displayed at all times.

In reviewing the offerings at various US sportsbooks that will be entering the legal Ontario market, there appear to be some new sports betting games that might be seen by the AGCO to incentivize riskier play.  It remains to be seen if these risky games, which are a point of important product differentiation, will be allowed in Ontario.

 

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