Ontario Wants to Know if It Can Rejoin International Online Poker Ontario Wants to Know if It Can Rejoin International Online Poker
Key Takeaways
  • Ontario is exploring rejoining the international online poker market.
  • This move would allow Ontario’s online poker sites, including PokerStars and GGPoker, to share liquidity with international markets.
  • A Court of Appeal hearing is scheduled for late November to determine the legality of international igaming.
  • Alberta and Quebec are also considering overhauling their igaming setups.

Under this model, players in Ontario will be able to participate in peer-to-peer games … involving players outside of Canada. Nearly two years ago, Ontario became the first Canadian province to launch a regulated market of private operators offering real money online poker.

But that market is segregated from the international player pool. Now, Ontario aims to be the first province to do something else — rejoin the international marketplace.

Such a move would allow all Ontario online poker sites — many of whom exited the gray market before launching in the province’s regulated space — to share liquidity with markets all over the world, resulting in a massive boon for operators and players alike.

Consider that the province, with 14.5 million residents, is the largest jurisdiction with a regulated poker market in North America. International liquidity would also attract online poker sites that currently avoid Ontario back into the market.

And the entire process could kick off in late November. That’s when the Court of Appeal of Ontario, the highest court in the province, will hear arguments on whether Ontario may offer international igaming, including peer-to-peer poker, or if doing so violates the federal Criminal Code.

If Ontario’s high court rules that international play is permissible, and the Supreme Court of Canada concurs, the most populous province in Canada could once again have multi-jurisdictional poker and shared liquidity — and with them, bigger prize pools and bigger prizes.

That would be tremendous news for the online poker operators already in the province — PokerStars Ontario, GGPoker/WSOP Ontario, and 888 could all reconnect their player pools with their “dot-com” international online poker sites. Players would return to huge tournaments and cash games available on the global player pool.

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Pivotal Hearing Scheduled for Late November

The Court of Appeal was moved to act after Ontario AG Doug Downey filed an Order in Council on February 2. The AG wants the court to decide whether igaming is still legal if Ontarians “were permitted to participate in games and betting involving individuals outside of Canada,” and if not, what the limitations under the federal Criminal Code should be.

A hearing to discuss the matter is scheduled for November 26 to 28 in Toronto. The court issued an April 8 deadline for all interested parties to submit their legal materials in the case.

According to documentation tied to the AG’s order, “under this model, players in Ontario will be able to participate in peer-to-peer games, including games of chance and mixed chance and skill played for money, and sports betting, involving players outside of Canada.”

“Players located outside of Ontario but within Canada would not be permitted to participate in games or betting in the absence of an agreement between Ontario and the province or territory in which those players are located.”

Sites including PokerStars and GGPoker would then be allowed to lawfully combine their Ontario player pools with other pools of players from around the world, but only in jurisdictions where their international license is enough for them to operate legally.

“By permitting players participating in legal online gaming and sports betting to participate in games and betting involving players located outside of Canada, Ontario could channel players away from unlawful gaming and betting schemes operating without any oversight into a lawful alternative that is conducted and managed by the province,” Downey wrote in his order to the high court.

Ontario would likely be rejected as a candidate to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), a multi-state gaming compact in the US whose members are Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia. Officials with MSIGA have told pokerfuse in the past that Ontario can’t join the compact — ostensibly because it’s a Canadian province, not a US state.

Alberta, Quebec Could Overhaul iGaming

The provincial gaming regulator, iGaming Ontario (iGO), pointed to the AG’s order when asked what, if anything, needed to be changed before Ontario (or any other province) wanted to launch multi-jurisdictional real money online poker.

iGO officials have said that Ontario has considered multi-jurisdictional poker in the past.

Alberta is one such province. It recently devoted $1 million to study the possibility of overhauling its current igaming setup in favor of a regulated market similar to Ontario’s. At the moment, PlayAlberta, a government-run site, is the only official option for online casino and sports betting, but it doesn’t offer Alberta online poker. A legal gray market runs alongside PlayAlberta.

Quebec could also decide to overhaul its igaming setup, which closely resembles Alberta’s.