PokerStars is one step closer to launching regulated online poker, casino, and sports betting in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Earlier this week, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) issued a license to TSG Interactive Canada Inc, a subsidiary of Flutter, for a real-money gaming site on the domain on.pokerstars.ca. This completes the first step of a two-step approval process before the company can go live with Ontario online poker.
The license also authorizes related casino and sports domains and three mobile apps — one for each iGaming vertical.
The next step is that PokerStars must execute an operating agreement with the iGO. It is hard to gauge when this will occur — most operators do so quickly, while others purposefully drag their heels.
However, signs point to PokerStars Ontario looking to launch by the end of June or the beginning of July.
Ontario Online Poker: A Brief Timeline
- March 4: PF reveals that GGPoker was among the first to receive AGCO approval for online poker under the WSOP.CA name.
- March 24: GG confirms its WSOP partnership for Ontario, plans “early April” launch.
- April 4: Regulated online poker, casino, and sports betting go live in Ontario.
- April 4: 888 Ontario among day 1 launches.
- April 5: BetMGM Ontario launches online poker on partypoker software the following day.
- April 8: PokerStars tells PF it is “getting closer to launch” after it was conspicuously absent on a list of operators with licenses pending.
- April 12: partypoker and bwin launch, forming a network with BetMGM
- June 8: PokerStars receives AGCO approval.
PokerStars Ontario: A Long Time Coming
The Ontario iGaming market opened in early April. In the following two months, some two dozen iGaming operators have gone live, with the big North American sportsbooks — BetMGM, DraftKings, BetRivers, and Flutter’s own FanDuel, among local and European operators, all launching in the province.
There were fewer Ontario online poker launches. Still, within the first week, players had the choice of four sites: 888poker Ontario went live on opening day, quickly followed by a trio of sites all sharing liquidity on a single network — BetMGM, partypoker, and bwin.
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 possibleHowever, the two largest online poker operators in the world — GGPoker and PokerStars — remain on the sidelines.
This could have been delayed by regulatory red tape, although one could speculate that it was by design. While licenses are pending, sites can continue to serve the Ontario online poker market from offshore. Thus Ontario players today can access the PokerStars and GG global player pools — a much more attractive offer than the much smaller segregated regulated sites.
Whatever the reason, PokerStars licensing has undoubtedly been slow. While it assured pokerfuse in April that it was working with regulators to launch until now, it had not taken the first step in the approval process.
Meanwhile, GGPoker, which plans to launch on WSOP.CA in partnership with the world-famous brand, was approved by the AGCO over three months ago. It initially planned to launch in April, but the process has since stalled. It has not yet executed an agreement with the iGO.
Ontario Online Poker: June 10, 2022
|Operator||AGCO license?||iGO authorized?||Ontario Launch||Network|
|888poker||Yes||Yes||April 4||Segregated independent|
|BetMGM||Yes||Yes||April 5||Segregated BetMGM network|
|partypoker||Yes||Yes||April 12||Segregated BetMGM network|
|bwin||Yes||Yes||April 12||Segregated BetMGM network|
|GGPoker/WSOP||Yes||No||Delayed||Remains on global pool for now|
|PokerStars||Yes (June 8)||No||Delayed||Remains on global pool for now|
Next Wave of Online Poker Rooms Expected This Summer
However, this bizarre two-tier status quo — regulated sites with small, segregated player pools competing with global poker sites slowly “transitioning” over — cannot last long. As Poker Industry PRO reported earlier this month, there have been signs suggesting that PokerStars was preparing to move forward with its Ontario license.
First, it may have wanted its flagship Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) to conclude before moving. With that finally in the rear-view mirror, the decks are now clear for Ontario players to transition over.
Second, it looks like PokerStars is readying for a marketing blitz, with a recent casting call — looking for PokerStars players in Toronto “who have interesting stories from their experience in the PokerStars community” — shooting this month.
The regulator may also look to apply pressure. In a recent statement to pokerfuse, an AGCO spokesperson “has provided clear guidance around requirements for exiting the unregulated market.”
“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,” it was stated. Any perceived heel-dragging on the process would likely not go down well with the regulator.
PokerStars may also have pressure from the giant Flutter corporation. The company plans a first-of-its-kind partnership between arguably its two most prominent brands, FanDuel and PokerStars to offer a best-in-class product in Ontario: With a sportsbook provided by FanDuel and casino and online poker by PokerStars.
With the PokerStars part of this pairing still outside the market, it has left FanDuel out on its own. The sooner PokerStars is approved, the sooner the pair can execute this plan. It is curious then that PokerStars’ license today included a sports domain and mobile app, although there may be no obligation to use this approval.
Of course, the change will be bittersweet for Ontario online poker players. The transition will mean a much smaller player pool. However, with operators fighting for market share, there could be a wave of marketing, with aggressive tournament schedules likely leading to considerable overlay value.