ONTARIO SPORTS BETTING: LAUNCH OF PROVINCE’S NEW IGAMING MARKET PROMPTS PARTNERSHIP SPREE

The article originally appeared in Covers.

A round of partnership announcements was expected, as Ontario’s regulatory framework now allows for a variety of online sportsbooks to legally compete for business in the province.

The launch of Ontario’s new internet gambling market last week has sparked a steady drumbeat of partnership announcements by online bookmakers and professional sports organizations trying to cash in on opportunities provided by Canada’s most populous province.

PointsBet Canada and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) unveiled another such tie-up on Monday morning, which will make PointsBet an official sports betting partner of the MLSE-owned Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argos, and F.C. 

The Ontario sports betting deal followed PokerStars and FanDuel Sportsbook announcing on Friday their own partnership with MLSE. The collaboration means fans will start seeing advertising for the Flutter Entertainment PLC-owned gambling sites on the boards and the court during Leafs and Raptors games. 

Meanwhile, Coolbet announced a multi-year partnership last Thursday with “Canada’s Fastest Man,” Andre De Grasse. The Olympic sprinter will help the bookmaker promote itself now that it is newly licensed to take bets in Ontario, which launched its competitive iGaming market on April 4.

A 10-year partnership between the Toronto Blue Jays and theScore Bet was announced on Thursday as well, the first such collaboration for the two sides. In addition to the various marketing opportunities offered by the deal, the team and the sportsbook operator intend to open a year-round sports bar and restaurant at Rogers Centre, the Jays’ home field. 

“The fan experience is evolving and this monumental partnership with theScore Bet offers compelling new ways for sports enthusiasts to be a part of the game,” said Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of the Blue Jays, in a press release.

A round of partnership announcements was expected, as Ontario’s regulatory framework now allows for a variety of online sportsbooks to legally compete for business in the province. Similar deals have been announced south of the Canadian border, where 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia now have legal sports betting. 

Both operators and sports organizations see benefits to the deals: teams and leagues gain sponsorship dollars and the attention of bettors, while bookmakers gain advertising opportunities and another avenue for customer acquisition. 

The partnerships are starting to mirror the cross-border nature of North American professional sports as well. Last week, FanDuel and BetMGM were announced as the National Hockey League’s “first-ever North American sports betting partners,” as the NHL already had similar arrangements with the sportsbook operators in the United States. 

“Canada’s new sports betting landscape presents a tremendous opportunity to further fan engagement and continue our progressive approach with the sports gaming industry,” said Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s chief business officer, in a release last week. “BetMGM and FanDuel were our first sports betting partners in the U.S., and we’re thrilled to expand our partnerships with both of these leaders in the sportsbook and mobile betting marketplace as we begin our transformative entry into this space in Canada and engage our avid Canadian fan base.”

In the same release, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said their existing partnership with the NHL “accelerated our ability to reach hockey fans and has allowed us to deliver an enhanced hockey wagering product.”

“Expanding our partnership with the NHL throughout North America, aligned with our recent launch in Ontario, puts us in a great position for long-term success in Canada,” Greenblatt added.

‘A very competitive environment’

The partnership announcements are coming in the early days of Ontario’s new iGaming market, which is the first of its kind in Canada. Some companies may be introducing themselves to Ontarians for the first time, and the endorsement of teams and leagues could help with the efforts. 

There are media partnerships, too. BetRivers-owner Rush Street Interactive Inc. announced last week an expanded collaboration with Canadian broadcaster Dan O’Toole, while FanDuel is now an official sportsbook partner of network TSN. 

But there is another angle to Ontario’s iGaming market different from other jurisdictions. 

Until the April 4 launch of the new framework, the government-owned Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. was technically the only legal provider of online gambling in the province. However, Ontarians were estimated to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on sites in the so-called “grey market,” wherein operators were taking bets from within the province despite being operated and regulated abroad. 

The grey-market activity could make it harder for brand-new sportsbooks in the province as they try to carve out market share for themselves. As of Monday morning, 13 different online sportsbooks had launched in Ontario’s new iGaming framework, which arrive in addition to OLG’s PROLINE+. 

“We are only four days in, but for sure that will be a very competitive environment we’ll see in Ontario,” said Jette Nygaard-Andersen, CEO of BetMGM-part-owner Entain PLC, during an April 7 conference call for analysts and investors.

Inking partnership deals with big names may not be enough to ensure a bookmaker’s success in Ontario, either. 

An online survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted last year by consulting firm Deloitte Canada found just 9.4% of respondents would pick a sportsbook based on the endorsement of current or former professional athletes. 

“These findings suggest we should be prepared to witness some churn as Ontario’s sports-betting market becomes the first in Canada to embrace a competitive marketplace,” a report from Deloitte noted. 

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