Online poker was first officially regulated in Ontario on April 4, 2022. Although some forms of online gambling were allowed before, this is the first time private companies were allowed to apply for gaming licenses and offer their services in the province with the population of over 15 million.
Deposit options: Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Interac, Apple Pay.
Minimum deposit: CA$10.
Deposit options: MasterCard, Visa, Interac, Paysafecard.
Minimum deposit: CA$10.
Deposit options: MasterCard, Visa, online banking.
Minimum deposit: CA$10.
The regulated online poker market in Ontario has the largest player pool of any regulated North American jurisdiction, with a provincial population of nearly 15 million — about 2 million more than Pennsylvania and about 5 million more than Great Lakes neighbor Michigan.
Regulated online poker in Ontario officially went live on April 4, 2022, with 888poker Ontario becoming the first licensed site to open its virtual doors.
The Ontario online poker market is ever-changing, with four operators online thus far, but more are in the wings with launches pending, awaiting final licensure. Some of the biggest names in the industry have set up shop in Ontario and, in this Guide to Online Poker in Ontario, we will try to give you all the info you need to know on what the market’s current state is and who is in it.
Currently, players looking to play online poker in Ontario on licensed sites can do so on 888poker Ontario, BetMGM Poker Ontario, partypoker Ontario, or bwin Ontario — the latter three make up the BetMGM Ontario Network, sharing liquidity across the three skins.
Other major sites, including PokerStars and GGPoker, continue to cater to Canadian players on the grey market via their global licenses while waiting for the licensing process to complete.
This is a market in flux and changes happen almost daily, so be sure to check back often for all the big developments as we continue to cover all things Ontario online poker on pokerfuse.
At first glance, regulation in Ontario seems a bit confusing, with two agencies prominently mentioned. The main regulatory body for gambling in Ontario is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), but then there is also iGaming Ontario (iGO), a subsidiary of the AGCO that manages the private entities regulated in the Ontario iGaming market.
One key point to make for Ontario is that the iGO is restricted to “conducting and managing” the online gaming of private entities in the market. The existing, government-controlled Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) does not fall under the watch of iGO, though OLG does not have a poker component.
This is a market in flux, but there are two networks and four poker rooms currently dealing real money online poker in the regulated environment. First, we have 888poker Ontario — the first Ontario poker site to go live — and then we have the three sites that comprise the BetMGM Ontario Network — BetMGM Poker Ontario, partypooker Ontario, and bwin Ontario. All four have online poker apps and software available for download and offer an evolving schedule.
There are also a few big names planning to get into the online poker game in Ontario. Among the operators that have launched or have plans to launch are:
The regulations in Ontario specify that all play be restricted to players within the province and, for poker operators, that means a segregated player pool. Operators will need to deploy products that serve only the Ontario market, but there is a grace period in regulations for licensed operators that have begun the licensing process but are not ready for launch.
Rather than forcing those operators to cease operations in Ontario pending the launch of their market-specific offerings — which would have created a blackout period and potentially pushed more customers to risky offshore sites — the regulators decreed that operators could continue letting Ontario players play in their global markets, so long as they had begun the licensing process and were actively working towards a launch of their licensed and regulated Ontario poker rooms. However, they are expected to transition to a ring-fenced Ontario player pool as quickly as possible.
It is possible this could all change in the future. The Ontario regulators have considered “inter-jurisdictional compacts”. Canada already has such a compact, allowing players in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Québec to play against each other via IGT software.
While the commercial component of Ontario makes it unlikely it will join that compact in its existing form — and the other three provinces do not have any commercial operators — it shows that there is potentially an inclination to share liquidity across Canada.
There are four active operators in the regulated Ontario online poker market, with several more operators working towards launching their Ontario-specific offerings.
Here is a quick look at the current market.
|Operator||AGCO License?||iGO Authorized?||Launch Date|
|888poker||Yes||Yes||Launched on April 4|
|BetMGM/partypoker/bwin||Yes||Yes||BetMGM Launched April 5; partypoker & bwin launched April 12|
|Bet365||Yes||Yes||Launched on April 4 without poker|
|GGPoker/WSOP||Yes||No||Has delayed its launch|
|PokerStars||No||No||Not clear when the licensed site might go live, the earliest is June|
888poker Ontario was the first licensed operator to go live and start dealing with real money online poker in the newly regulated Ontario market. It was also the first and only operator to launch all three verticals on day one. 888 expects to build on an already strong presence in Canada by being one of the first Ontario-specific poker rooms.
888poker Ontario got off the ground right away with a full-service application offering a full selection of popular 888poker formats. The interface will be very familiar to people moving over from the 888poker global client. 888 kicked things off in full 888 style, running daily MTTs with ambitious guarantees from day one, which led to a lot of players enjoying a lot of value thanks to huge overlays.
888 also boasts being the only operator with a local Ontarian as brand ambassador — Ontario-based streamer, Adam “iamEklo” Tocholke was one of the founding members of the 888poker StreamTeam and has already been streaming live from the newly launched 888 Ontario poker room on his Twitch channel.
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The formats available at 888poker Ontario are:
BetMGM Poker Ontario, powered by partypoker software, is also live with a full suite of its popular game types. Ontario players who played on partypoker’s global client will see a familiar interface at BetMGM Poker Ontario.
partypoker and bwin both launched their own skins in Ontario on April 12, offering the same interface and games as BetMGM Poker Ontario, but with partypoker and bwin branding. Similar to their shared network in New Jersey, partypoker, bwin, and BetMGM all share a player pool, creating the first online poker network in Ontario.
BetMGM has also come out of the gates with an impressive-looking schedule of tournaments in Ontario. It promises the Daily C-Note every night, a $109 buy-in tournament starting at 7:05 pm local time. There is also going to be a High Roller tournament every Tuesday and Thursday, starting at the same time with a $530 buy-in.
Its Super Sunday tournament schedule looks solid, with 12 tournaments kicking off at five past the hour, from 3:05 pm to 8:05 pm, including PKOs, a $55 Sunday Masters, and a $530 High Roller. However, at time of writing, none of BetMGM’s MTTs have actually run. It could be that it’s waiting for partypoker to join the party and pool players before kicking things off.
Ontario players on BetMGM / partypoker / bwin have access to:
WSOP.com is planning to make its first move outside the US, partnering with global poker powerhouse GGPoker. The Ontario product has not yet been released, but, in the meantime, Ontario players continue to play in GGPoker’s global pool.
The room will go live under the WSOP.ca domain, indicating that GGPoker has no plans to apply for a license and will instead go all-in with the WSOP brand in Canada and, potentially, in the whole North American market down the line.
PokerStars has not released its Ontario-specific product yet and has been fairly tight-lipped about its specific plans for launch. In the meantime, Ontario players continue to play on PokerStars global platform pending its migration to an Ontario-only site.
In the weeks leading to the launch of the Ontario online poker market, PokerStars told pokerfuse that it was already in communications with the Canadian regulators.
“Canada is very close to our hearts. It’s our home ground and where PokerStars was born over 20 years ago,” a spokesperson said. “It will be a historical moment for us to be licensed in our home province.”
While no specific date has been revealed, PokerStars has said it’s “getting closer” to a launch, adding that Ontarians will be able to compete in SCOOP 2022, which puts a launch of PokerStars Ontario at June, at the earliest.
Prior to this, pokerfuse spied efforts in the online poker lobby to prepare for a distinct PokerStars Ontario online poker client, so it seems clear there are efforts on multiple fronts to prepare for regulated, legal online poker in Canada. The company will almost certainly launch PokerStars Casino and PokerStars Sports as well.
While bet365 has both of the required licenses and was one of the first operators out of the gate, deploying its casino and sportsbook operations when the market went live, the operator did not launch a poker client in its first offerings.
|Cash||NL10 to NL2500||NL2 to NL5000PL2 to PL500|
|Fast-Fold||NL 10 to NL 200||NL2 to NL25 PL2 and PL10|
|SNG||$1 to $100 Hypers, 6-max and Heads-Up||None|
|Lottery SNGs||$1, $5, $10 (no Ultra)||10c, $1, $5, $10, $20|
|MTTs||Minimal MTT schedule deployed||Full guaranteed MTT schedule|
The elephant in the province of Ontario’s private regulation scheme is shared liquidity. As a result of provincial regulation of gambling in Canada, only the Ontario provincial government can regulate gambling for Ontarians, and it can only regulate for Ontarians.
As a result of such regulation, the Ontario internet gaming regime was deployed as a geofenced jurisdiction, where operators are expected to restrict their users to people physically located within Ontario’s borders. While there are some licensed operators still dealing poker to Ontarians through their global player pools, that is a time-limited accommodation for operators actively working on a discrete Ontario-only version.
As geofenced markets in North America go, Ontario is actually very attractive. With almost 15 million people, Ontario is actually the largest single regulated jurisdiction in North America, capping the previous king-of-the-hill Pennsylvania which has about 13 million residents.
That means, even without shared liquidity, Ontario is still an attractive market in the context of North American regulated jurisdictions. However, online poker is particularly sensitive to the size of the player pool, as compared to casino gaming or sports betting activities, so online poker operators in Ontario will almost certainly be looking to expand that pool through inter-jurisdictional compacts if regulations allow.
For the time being, shared liquidity in Canada is not part of the plan. However, it is not outside the realms of possibility. There are already a couple of similar pacts that have been formed in North America, with the MSIGA already creating a multi-state player pool between NJ, NV, DE that WSOP.com already takes full advantage of. With the recent addition of Ontario’s neighbor Michigan to the MSIGA, that just makes a stronger case for other jurisdictions to also look towards shared liquidity.
Additionally, Canada has its own shared player pool between British Columbia, Manitoba, and Québec, creating a market of around 14.7 million people — slightly smaller than Ontario on its own. Ontario regulators have considered “inter-jurisdictional compacts”, but it seems unlikely it would join the existing Canadian compact as there are fundamental differences between the markets.
|British Columbia||5.1 million||PlayNow.com||Yes|
|Loto Québec||8.5 million||LotoQuebec.com||Yes|
The existing BC/MB/QC Canadian online poker compact serves players via government-controlled gaming monopolies in the three provinces, and none of them have any penetration by private entities. In Ontario, the existence of private companies in the market means it would not be an easy fit into a compact with no private competition.
At present, Ontario is the only province with a commercial component to its regulatory scheme, so it is a bit of an outlier on the Canadian scene. However, at least a few other provinces, such as Alberta, will be watching the Ontario experiment closely, and could certainly follow suit and introduce a commercial component, and, should that happen, it would be a natural fit for extending the player pool outside Ontario.
While it is unlikely that the existing compact serving BC, MB, and QC through PlayNow and lottoQuébec will be open to commercial interests anytime soon, there is at least some hope of a path forward towards a shared player pool with commercial components in the Canadian online poker scene.
There has been some opposition to the Ontario regulation plan since it was announced. In particular, some Indigenous nations in Ontario saw the move as infringing on their rights to control their own territory and self-govern. Shawanaga First Nation and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation have both expressed concerns related to Indigenous self-government and the responsibility of Canadian governments to “consult and accommodate” First Nations impacted by government decisions.
Ontario’s Auditor General also pointed to some possible issues with the new regulations. In her analysis of the new rules in 2021, AG Bonnie Lysyk pointed to possible legal risks related to delegation of duties, conflict of interest, and game integrity.
Additionally, some land-based casino operations, such as Great Canadian Gaming (GCG) have expressed concern over revenue loss from the new plans. While there is general support for the idea of the regulations, GCG expressed “serious issues” surrounding its revenue with competition from online commercial entities.
None of the opposition has prevented the new regulations from moving forward, though it is still entirely possible that legal action may be taken in the future to challenge the new system from a number of angles.
The new era of commercial operators in the Ontario real money online poker market is now in place, with two operators already serving real money online poker under the new regulated model. There are several more waiting in the wings with Ontario poker platforms in development, though, in some cases, those operators continue to deal poker to Ontario players through their global player pools until the local client is completed.
It is unlikely that unregulated sites will stop serving Ontario players. While enforcement is generally a key part of the regulation, in Canada, it is unconstitutional for ISPs to block access to URLs on the internet, including unlicensed gaming sites.
This ties back to a 2016 case where Québec tried to require ISPs to block access to unregulated sites, to promote its own regulated offerings through lottoQuébec. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates media access in Canada, found it violated the neutrality requirements of the federal Telecommunications Act.
That means there is essentially no way for Ontario to prevent unlicensed operators from continuing to operate in the province, so operators like Bovada (aka Bodog) or WPN (aka Americas Cardroom), who serve unregulated markets already, will continue to do so in the new era.
Considering that there are limited abilities to control unlicensed operators and getting a license commits the operator to serve a geo-locked player pool, there is an open question about why operators would launch a regulated online poker room in Ontario. While companies could, in theory, keep dealing poker to Ontario players without applying for a license, public-facing companies will be thinking twice about it.
One key advantage is marketing and advertising. Unlicensed operators serving poker in the grey market won’t be able to advertise their products to Ontario customers and licensed operators will be able to cut sponsorship deals with local teams or entities, as well as with ambassadors.
Additionally, joining the regulated online poker market in Ontario will be a big help to operators trying to get their mobile clients into the official Apple and Google Play app stores. Equally, in the current environment of corporate responsibility, there is a business imperative for public companies to seek the appropriate licensing in the markets in which they operate.
Furthermore, being a licensed regulated site means certain protections are in place — both for operators and for players. Should problems arise, they have a regulator that can assist. And players can play with peace of mind, knowing that the licensed site is safe and secure and trustworthy.
The new regulated online poker market in Ontario is the largest in North America, so all the major players are interested in it. The big names in the online poker game will all be doing their best to ensure they have all the access they can get to that market, so they will all be keen to get in with a fully licensed product, even if that means some short-term negative effects.
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