From today on, for the very first time, international companies can offer legal online casino gaming, poker, and sports betting in Ontario under local licenses in Canada’s largest province, Ontario. Approximately a dozen brands have brought their services online thus far, including US heavyweights, European stalwarts, and local providers. Many more will launch in the coming days.
But, so far, only 888poker has launched Ontario online poker. The site came online early on Monday and is offering a full slate of online poker games on the 888poker.ca domain, including SNGs, BLAST tournaments, and a schedule of MTT tournaments. All games are denominated in CAD.
As expected, 888poker Ontario is segregated from the rest of the world, meaning Ontario players now play in a separate player pool from the one they did before. As per Ontario responsible gaming regulations, third-party sites cannot disclose details of the welcome bonuses, offers, or rewards of regulated Ontario sites.
Meanwhile, other licensed operators continue to serve the market with their offshore licenses, pending full approval. This includes PokerStars, partypoker, and GGPoker, the latter of which has put a pause on the debut of WSOP.CA.
Big Ontario Sports and Casino Launches — But Poker Much Quieter
iGaming Ontario, the body overseeing the regulation of international companies in the provincial market, officially recognizes 17 domains as authorized entities, as per its “whitelist,” published today on its website and via press release.
Most of these are online and offer a spread of casino games, including live dealer, slots, video poker, and table games, plus full sports betting products. Brands to go live include European heavyweight Bet365 and US giants BetMGM, BetRivers, FanDuel, and Caesars. Local Canadian outfit Rivalry is anticipated to launch later Monday.
888, alongside poker, has also launched its Ontario online casino app and mobile sportsbook, the only operator to go live with all three verticals.
“We are excited to launch in Ontario under a local license, enabling us to leverage our full suite of data-driven marketing capabilities to build awareness of our differentiated and content-rich products in the province,” stated a press release issued by 888 today. “Ontario is a large province with a population of more than 14 million people, many of whom are passionate sports and betting fans, and we see very exciting long-term growth opportunities in the market.”
No Poker from Bet365; partypoker & BetMGM Poker Paused
There was some hope that the operator would get immediate competition in online poker from Bet365. As pokerfuse reported last month, the company has a history of offering poker alongside its primary verticals of sports and casino, and its long-standing partner Playtech frequently offers its iPoker online poker software in regulated markets.
However, it appears that the British bookmaker has no interest as yet to offer poker: The site launched with casino and sports only.
There was also the chance that BetMGM Poker Ontario would go live with poker today. However, at the time of writing, online poker was “coming soon,” yet the casino and sports products were live. A press release issued Monday touting its debut made no mention of online poker.
It could be that the company is waiting for its partner partypoker to also come to market. BetMGM is joint-owned by party’s parent company Entain. It looks like both brands are readying to go live with poker in Ontario. While neither company could confirm its plans, pokerfuse understands that the pair will join to form an online network in Ontario, sharing liquidity.
While something of a surprise, there is precedent for this — the pair do exactly this in New Jersey, pooling liquidity to form a state-dedicated online poker network. It may well be that BetMGM wants to wait for partypoker to also launch its poker client in the market, bringing its existing Ontario player base that currently enjoys the partypoker.com global liquidity.
It is not clear how far off partypoker is from launching. As first reported by Canada Gaming Review last week, it was among 11 licensees to get approval from the AGCO late last week, but it has yet to execute its operating agreement with the iGO. However, this move could be just days away.
PokerStars, GGPoker Wait in the Wings
Meanwhile, all eyes are on the big two: PokerStars and GGPoker. Both are now explicitly pausing their launches.
PokerStars Ontario is on hold as the operator has yet to receive its license from the AGCO, which could be a purposeful decision to slow down the process. As reported last week, Ontario is now a de facto two-tier system: operators that have started — but not completed — the licensing process can continue to serve the market from offshore.
This means that, at the time of writing, Ontarians can continue to enjoy the usual PokerStars experience, with tables and tournaments on the global liquidity pool. If reports from customer service can be believed, the operator expects this status quo to extend at least until its SCOOP tournament series concludes in June.
And it looks like GGPoker might be taking a leaf from the PokerStars playbook. All signs had pointed to the operator triumphantly going live in Ontario on Day 1, launching on the domain WSOP.CA thanks to its close partnership with the World Series of Poker.
However, at the last minute, the operator delayed its plans.
“WSOP.CA is getting ready for launch and, as the first market WSOP is entering on the GGPoker Network platform, we want to ensure our players have the best and smoothest possible experience,” a GGPoker spokesperson told pokerfuse late last week. “We don’t expect to launch on April 4. We hope to be able to provide a more concrete launch estimate soon.”
In the interim, Ontario online poker players can continue to play on GGPoker.com as before.
888, as one of the most regulated online gambling sites in the world, has thus stuck its neck out here. It has jumped in with both feet into the regulated market of Ontario, knowing that it would offer an inferior poker product initially as offshore competition can continue their existing operations, but it gets the regulated market lead and can offer a more cohesive offering across its online casino, sports, and poker products.