Many sportsbook operators are eager to enter the Canada sports betting market, but few positioned themselves as quickly as PointsBet.
Prior to the passage of C-218, which legalizes single-event sports betting in CA, the Australia-based company launched PointsBet Canada. With the new division, PointsBet also announced the hiring of former Monkey Knife Fight President Nic Sulsky as Chief Commercial Officer to lead the endeavor.
Last month, the Senate of Canada passed C-218. As Canadian bettors wait for provinces to set up regulations, LSR checked in with Sulsky to see his initial thoughts on what the market will be like.
LSR: Just hired by PointsBet, now the Canada sports betting bill passes – how crazy has this time been?
Sulsky: It’s a crazy week, been a crazy week. Technically it (was) Week 3. I left MKF in May and it’s been pretty hectic.
One of the reasons I got so excited about this opportunity, PointsBet is the only international operator to open a distinct Canadian business and putting real boots on the ground and the opportunity to build PointsBet Canada, it is such an exciting opportunity.
They started PointsBet USA 19 months ago and the growth has been exponential, so I get to take learnings from PointsBet USA and how it launched and grown and applying that to the market and adding to that the really unique perspective that I have as the only real money gaming operator in Canada.
I’m pretty confident that I’m the only Canadian operator to drive every inch of the Trans-Canada Highway.
LSR: Canada will be an interesting market. Hockey is much bigger than in the US. How do you see this market shaking out in terms of sports?
Sulsky: It’s so unique, distinct. We’re taking a distinctly Canadian approach. We saw eye-to-eye and that was the driver for me to launch into this new exciting endeavor.
I think there’s an overestimation that all Canadians love the NHL. They love hockey, but Canadians love other sports. But you know what they love more than anything else? Canada.
The sports fan in Kelowna, British Columbia is entirely different than the sports fan in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. You can’t just learn that from a book and talking to people.
That’s why building a best-in-class sportsbook in Canada and having real Canadians working on it is one of the ways to separate us. We are going to build a distinct product. We know it’s not just about having hockey featured, there are subtleties to being Canadian other operators don’t have.
LSR: How do you see PointsBet Canada launching?
Sulsky: Because we are a complement to PointsBet and PointsBet USA, we’re not playing around in the grey market.
Will PointsBet Canada be behind some of the initial grey-market operators because they’ve seeded their database in a less-than-legitimate way? Yes. But it’s not a sprint. This is a marathon and the way we attack this market is going to prepare us to take a leadership position.
It’s going to (be a) bloodbath up here, and I’ve used this example before: Target. They launched in Canada. It failed. Let’s just say that the things people think about the Canadian market aren’t the reality. There’s a finite amount of people who understand that, people who think like that.
I’m jacked up, I’m so excited to bring and marry everything I love about this country and things I know about North American gaming and rely on the best in class knowledge from, let’s face it, some of the most mature gaming minds in the world.
LSR: Which province do you think launches Canada sports betting first?
Sulsky: Ontario is going to be first, by the end of the year. It sounds like Ontario will be first, Alberta will probably be second. British Columbia Lottery Corp., what they really want, their hope is to create some exclusivity or monopoly in the market. Manitoba and BCLC are intertwined and thinking the same way.
But when you look at healthy mature markets, the best markets for the consumer are multiplayer. You want to have multiple licensed operators in markets because it drives better products for the consumers. To have it run as a monopoly, it’s not healthy.
LSR: You mentioned grey-market operators getting a head start …
Sulsky: That’s most interesting for me from a business perspective is C-218 passed, but sports betting is not going to be technically legal until the end of this year.
These grey-market operators are still marketing and acquiring customers. I find it very challenging as an operator that wants to be the most legitimate, safest, most responsible.
What does the Canadian consumer think and know about single-event wagering? They think it’s legal but it’s not these grey-market platforms. The Canadian consumer doesn’t realize the money is going offshore. There are no consumer protections, no regulations.
What is interesting, somewhat concerning, but what happens, now it’s legal but not regulated, leagues, teams, media companies still want to cash the checks. When do they want to cash the checks from the right operators? That’s the really interesting piece. It’s complicated, it’s even more so now. The dot-net reality and grey market, it’s even more complicated now.
LSR: If you will be behind a bit, how do you build the PointsBet Canada brand before launch?
Sulsky: The brand that we’re going to build in Canada will be two-pronged. I’ve been operating DFS in the US and just doing that while living in Canada. It’s a perfect storm for me personally and PointsBet.
We want to distinguish ourselves as an identifiably Canadian operation. We want to be know as the safest, most compliant, most responsible operator.
Where there is this interesting grey period between legalization and regulation, I want to build our brand by letting them understand we want to build the safest, not just the best, but the safest place to come and play.
This grey area opens up an opportunity for us to get the message out there, but it will be a bit more challenging because we won’t let them sign up or place a bet until we can roll out and go live.
LSR: Once you launch, how will PointsBet Canada set itself apart?
Sulsky: We’re excited and bullish on the competitiveness of our tech foundation and that will be apparent as the market opens up. Canadian bettors are getting PointsBet Canada, not [the US version of a sportsbook.] We all know in the long run, product will win out, so I want to marry a great product with a genuine connection to the Canadian sports fan.
The pace is unbelievable. I came from the start-up world and this is what drives me. I get to build being supported by some of the most educated, mature gaming operators in the world that have already done this in the US.