GGPoker Says Ontario Online Poker "Unnecessarily Strict," Lobbies for International Liquidity GGPoker Says Ontario Online Poker "Unnecessarily Strict," Lobbies for International Liquidity
Key Takeaways
  • GGPoker is advocating for Ontario to join international online poker.
  • The market for online poker in Ontario is currently segregated from international player pools.
  • Ontario’s Attorney General has requested a court ruling on the legality of international igaming.
  • A favorable ruling could impact online poker regulation in other Canadian provinces.
  • GGPoker is considering seeking intervenor status in the upcoming court hearing.

After discussion with local legal specialists, GGPoker came to believe that this was an unnecessarily strict interpretation of the Criminal Code GGPoker has been working behind the scenes to convince Ontario regulators that they should reverse course and allow operators to rejoin international online poker.

The regulated Ontario online poker market opened two years ago, and it attracted half a dozen online poker rooms to the market — including PokerStars, BetMGM, and GGPoker, through a partnership with WSOP. However, since launch, the market has been segregated from international player pools.

GGPoker thinks that could change, and it has been working with the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) to lobby iGaming Ontario (iGO), the provincial regulator.

“In forming its rules governing igaming, the province of Ontario adopted a rather strict interpretation of the Canadian Criminal Code,” said Sarne Lightman, Global Managing Director for GGPoker, in an exclusive interview with Poker Industry PRO published on Monday.

It was an interpretation that “does not permit an open liquidity model,” he added. For the last two years, Ontario online poker players have only been able to play against other Ontario poker players.

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“After discussion with local legal specialists, GGPoker came to believe that this was an unnecessarily strict interpretation of the Criminal Code,” Lightman said. The operator is working with the CGA in order to “assist its efforts in lobbying the province to review/expand this interpretation.”

Changing the Game

These efforts are already paying off. Ontario AG Doug Downey has taken steps to have the highest court in the province, the Court of Appeal of Ontario, weigh in on the matter.

Downey 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.” He filed an Order in Council to that effect on February 2.

Players from every country should be free to play with players from any other country. We will always work towards global liquidity in all markets. The court has since scheduled a hearing for November 26 to 28 in Toronto.

“Since this judicial reference will be key to the future of open liquidity in Ontario, GGPoker is actively considering seeking intervenor status so that we can make submissions before the Court of Appeal to further assist the justices in reaching their decision,” Lightman told PRO.

Should Ontario decide to follow GGPoker and the CGA’s advice, it would spell the end of the province’s segregated market for online poker. The resulting shared liquidity would create a win-win-win situation for operators, players, and the government — in the form of more revenue, bigger prizes, and more tax revenue, respectively.

Two Years of Regulation

Ontario launched a legal regulated market for real money online poker in April 2022. GGPoker was the last of the province’s current operators to join, doing so on September 30, 2022.

Its launch was remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, it was — and remains — the only segregated market launch for GGPoker. The site is one of the most regulated and licensed online poker sites in the world, but has steered clear of closed liquidity markets (it remains outside of France, Spain, Italy, and the United States). Ontario was its first step toward competing in closed liquidity.

Second, it formed a partnership with the World Series of Poker brand to launch a new poker room under the domain WSOP.ca. While this partnership had been long-standing, it was the first time the pair worked together on a real money online poker site.

Despite ceding a six-month head start to five rivals, GGPoker quickly took a large share of the market. Within the first six months of its launch, it took the market lead from PokerStars Ontario for the first time. It has held the top spot in Ontario now for over nine months.

Data provided by GameIntel

Impacts on Canada Online Poker

A favorable ruling on the Criminal Code, a federal statute, wouldn’t just transform Ontario — but online poker in Canada in general. Alberta and Quebec are both considering following Ontario’s lead in creating legal regulated markets for online poker. If Court of Appeal were to rule that international liquidity be permitted, than these provinces could launch under full global liquidity from Day 1.

If these efforts fail, there’s still another path forward — a multi-provincial gaming compact in Canada to support online poker. There is already such an informal partnership between poker sites on the Canada Poker Network — a network of provincial lottery-licensed online poker rooms in British Columbia, Québec and Manitoba.

A similar arrangement as the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) in the US — a five-state compact that includes Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia — could be struck between any provinces that regulate their markets like Ontario.

However, Lightman was opposed to multi-jurisdictional pacts like MSIGA or the one operational in Southern Europe.

“We do not believe in either arrangement,” he said. “Players from every country should be free to play with players from any other country. We will always work towards global liquidity in all markets.”