Bet365 Making Ontario Sports Betting Switch From Gray Market

Written By Pat Evans on March 16, 2022
Ontario sports betting

A major operator in the gray market of Ontario sports betting appears poised to transition to the regulated market.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario issued a license to bet365 Tuesday, according to the AGCO website. With the license, bet365 can be among the sportsbooks lining up for the April 4 commercial launch of sports betting in Ontario.

There are 14 online gaming operators approved by the AGCO as of Tuesday.

Bet365 has operated in the unregulated gray market of Canada sports betting for years. The company recently launched a new app in Canada, as well as a free-to-play March Madness bracket challenge.

Bet365 making bigger North American play?

Bet365 is one of the largest sports betting brands across the globe but has yet to make a major dent in the US.

Live in New Jersey sports betting, bet365 could launch Colorado sports betting during the second quarter. While not a major name in the US sports betting landscape yet, there is potential for it to still jump in feet-first.

Perhaps the first major North American move is grabbing more of Ontario and its population of 15 million people.

Ontario regulatory challenges

The Canadian market was ripe with black- and gray-market sportsbooks offering their products. The opening of the regulated market, however, essentially eliminates gray-market status in the eyes of Ontario regulators.

“We want to convey our expectation that all prospective operators will make best efforts to conduct themselves in a fair, responsible and ethical manner during this transitional period,” an AGCO release said Wednesday. “Operator conduct, and evidence of their commitment to the objectives of Ontario’s Standards, both leading up to and beyond the launch of the market, will be duly noted and reflected in the regulatory approach we take with each operator.”

Enforcing the regulated market will be a major challenge, PointsBet Canada Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky told LSR last year. The Canadian Gaming Association estimated the gray and black markets in Canada take $14 billion in bets annually, including $4 billion wagered in the gray market.

Gray-market advantages in Ontario

With existing user bases and brand recognition, gray-market operators making the switch likely will have an advantage against sportsbooks fresh to the market.

That is a major reason some major US operators are hesitant to be bullish about the market opportunity, including DraftKings CEO Jason Robins during the company’s Q4 earnings call.

Other Ontario gray-market operators crossing over

Among the first licenses issued in Ontario was 888, a sportsbook that had operated in the unregulated market. That approval came shortly after the operator was fined $12.5 million by UK regulators for regulatory violations.

Unibet, another gray-market operator, received approval last week.

Other gray-market sportsbooks include Bwin, BetRegal and Bet99. Bet99 has an endorsement deal with Toronto Maple Leafs captain Auston Matthews, while BetRegal has a partnership with the Canadian Football League.

Operators approved for Ontario sports betting

Along with 888 and Unibet, a variety of other online gaming operators have received AGCO licenses.

FanDuel Sportsbook is the biggest US name as of yet, while BetRivers Sportsbook will also be in Ontario on or near launch day.

PointsBet and theScore were awarded licenses as both have worked diligently to develop Canadian plans.

Sports Interaction Ontario quandary

Entain recently acquired Sports Interaction, a sportsbook brand licensed to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and Mohawk Online. The sportsbook is one of the largest in Canadian sports betting.

During a recent Entain investor call, executives said they plan to apply for Ontario licensure with the Party brand. BetMGM, Entain’s joint venture with MGM Resorts, also plans to launch in Ontario.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Chief Mike Delisle recently told LSR Sports Interaction would not seek an Ontario license.

“It [is] already licensed by our gaming commission, therefore, no need, we’ve been operating since 2015,” Delisle said. “Nor are we open to paying any fees or taxes to a foreign government.”

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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