Ontario Regulator Wants Operators to Exit Grey Market "As Quickly As Possible" Ontario Regulator Wants Operators to Exit Grey Market "As Quickly As Possible"
Ralph Hutter, unsplash

It is a priority for the AGCO to bring unregulated activities under regulation in a timely way, and all applicants are expected to conclude all necessary steps with the AGCO and iGO as quickly as possible.Ontario regulators said that a recent report claiming they want all operators to exit the grey market by July 1 is incorrect.

In a statement, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said the agency wants operators to take all necessary steps to cease unregulated activities in the province as soon as possible.

Regulators want operators interested in entering the legal, regulated market in Ontario for online poker, casino gaming, or sports betting to be licensed with the AGCO and to execute an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario (iGO). Any third-party companies that work with operators must also be licensed.

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AGCO: Applicants Need to Take Steps “As Quickly As Possible”

A key objective of Ontario’s new iGaming market is to bring sites already offering gambling to Ontarians under regulation so that they can be held to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection, & game integrity.“A key objective of Ontario’s new iGaming market is to bring sites that are already offering gambling to Ontarians under regulation so that they can be held to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection, and game integrity,” AGCO spokesman Raymond Kahnert told pokerfuse on Friday.

Kahnert added that the AGCO “has provided clear guidance around requirements for exiting the unregulated market for the purposes of eligibility for registration under Ontario’s Gaming Control Act,” referring to the agency’s Internet Gaming Operator Application Guide. “As part of this transition, it is a priority for the AGCO to bring unregulated activities under regulation in a timely way, and all applicants are expected to conclude all necessary steps with the AGCO and iGO as quickly as possible.”

Ontario has had a grey market for years, with operators such as PokerStars and GGPoker offering online poker to players in the province through offshore operations. The AGCO has said it will allow operators that have started the licensing process but have yet to execute their iGO operating agreements to continue operating in the grey market, at least temporarily.

Report Erroneously Said There was a July 1 Deadline

Last week, the website Bonus.com — whose staff published the former Online Poker Report — reported that the AGCO may start to crack down on illegal iGaming sites beginning on July 1. The news outlet cited a conversation with an employee of the Kindred Group, whose flagship brand is Unibet, one of three multi-vertical apps available in Ontario

But Kahnert said the AGCO “made no such statement — the reference to July 1 was not accurate” and noted that the story has since “been corrected.” All references to July 1 have been removed from the Bonus article and replaced with “soon.”

That said, the AGCO has articulated that, despite allowing fully licensed operators to run alongside rivals that have started the process, they want operators out of the grey market. It’s unclear if the AGCO has been pushing operators to make the transition or how long regulators are willing to wait for each operator to switch over. Critics say regulators have created a de facto two-tiered system that hurts consumers and gives offshore operators an unfair advantage, at least temporarily.

The AGCO also hopes to avoid a blackout period, which arose in some European markets where black market operators made unregulated offers to players to fill the void.

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PokerStars Could Be Nearing Launch in Regulated Space

Recent marketing in Ontario for PokerStars suggests that the Flutter brand may be preparing to launch its online poker product in the province’s legal, regulated market. Another Flutter brand, FanDuel, is already live in the area with online casino gaming and sports betting.

PokerStars and FanDuel announced a first-of-its-kind partnership in April where the former would provide online poker while the latter would offer online casino gaming and sports betting. Many think that arrangement could serve as a template in the US.

Cash game data also revealed BetMGM Poker Ontario is the brand’s largest online poker room, by far — besting its rooms in Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.