Opinion: Ontario Sports Betting Needs Revenue Transparency To Succeed

Written By John Holden on May 27, 2022
Ontario sports betting

With a June 2 election in Ontario approaching the province is possibly in for a change – or maybe not. One question hanging over the province right now is, where are the sports betting numbers?

Most jurisdictions have been reporting the previous month’s revenue numbers within two to four weeks of the close of business on the last day of the month. But Ontario decided that sports betting revenue numbers will not be released until after the upcoming election.

The lack of transparency from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and iGaming Ontario is frustrating.

This is data. While there have been several hiccups and a few early fines, on the surface, Ontario appears as though it has been successfully converting a fair number of former gray-market operators to the newly regulated market. But ON sports betting numbers are needed to get a true picture.

Where are Ontario sports betting numbers?

Following the April 4 launch of sports betting and iGaming in Ontario, one expected a fairly regular flow of information from the AGCO providing news from the market. Amongst the news most desirable is the revenue that operators have generated and subsequent payments tax payments to the province.

As LSR detailed, iGaming Ontario reported that as a result of the Writ of Election filed May 4, iGaming Ontario was subject to restricted communications because of the upcoming election on June 2.

Political communications during an election cycle

In the United States, politicians seemingly never stop running for office even after being elected. Canada, mercifully, tightly restricts the period during which parties and candidates can campaign for office.

As part of a sweeping overhaul of the Canada Elections Act, Canada extended rules that limit what “advertising” can take place during an election cycle. The legislation has not been without controversy, as the law imposes significant restrictions on expressive activity.

However, the overarching policy goal of the legislation was to promote fairness, and stop better-funded candidates or the party in power from exploiting their superior resources.

Transparency versus elections?

Does iGaming Ontario’s decision not to release the numbers fall within a category that prevents them from being released, or is it simply an agency decision not to release any information during the election cycle?

Given the emphasis on transparency the AGCO has advocated for, it is a striking contrast that we do not get a release of pieces of data simply because of an election cycle. The country does not stop, certainly. and the industry does not stop simply because there is an election.

Even where it might not be appropriate to engage in a one-off or periodic activity during an election cycle that could swing votes, the release of the monthly revenue numbers should be systematic.

Ontario sports betting information matters

The early days of the Ontario legal sports betting market have been fairly anti-climactic in terms of some of the possible drama that had been circulating in the air before launch.

The absence of any legal challenges to the launch is perhaps the greatest surprise. There have been several hiccups from operators trying to navigate the province’s incredibly restrictive advertising guidelines. BetMGM was fined $48,000 CAD and PointsBet was fined $30,000 CAD for failing to comply with the province’s standards.

However, it is nearly two months into the regulated Ontario market and the industry is forced to attempt to use secondary sources to piece together who is doing well in the market. Metrics like app downloads are, right now, amongst the leading indicators of which companies are succeeding in the market.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Transparency as to what is happening is necessary if the regulated market is truly going to compete against the unregulated market. While there have been several highly publicized fines of companies for violating advertising standards, the same transparency has not been shown with respect to the data being collected by regulators. Without transparency and consistent policies, the market is not going to become what it could.

The grand experiment that Ontario sought to roll out was to offer an olive branch to gray-market operators and let them enter the regulated market. Those companies already began with a massive head start, similar to those of the daily fantasy sports companies in the United States.

In order to have a fair market, regulators need to consistently release market competition information and consistently regulate advertising restrictions. Otherwise, white-hat actors will be the ones that are punished.

What happens now in Ontario?

Not much is going to happen until June 2.

Sometime after June 2, the revenue numbers will be released and the world will know just how grand this experiment has been.

While there certainly might be legitimate reasons for not releasing the revenue numbers in a timely manner, it leaves the market in the dark through no fault of its own.

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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