Ontarians wagering far more on legal online casino games than on sports betting | CBC News

Ontarians’ total wagers on online casino games stand far higher than what’s spent on sports-related betting, according to newly released figures from iGaming Ontario (iGO), providing a first glimpse into how these two segments compare.

The province launched a regulated online gaming market last year, allowing licensed operators to provide services including casino games, sports betting and poker services.

Data released this week by iGO — a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario that manages the regulated market — indicates that Ontarians placed $14 billion in total wagers in the recent April-June quarter.

These included:

  • $11.6 billion in casino-related wagers, which iGO said include slots, live and computer-based table games, as well as peer-to-peer bingo.
  • $2 billion in betting on sports, esports, as well as proposition and novelty bets.
  • $350 million in peer-to-peer poker games.

Together, these wagers generated $545 million in gaming revenues. By comparison, the market generated $162 million in these revenues during the equivalent quarter last year — its first in operation.

The newly released iGO data did not provide a breakdown of where the revenues went. But iGO told CBC News that the Ontario government received a roughly $260-million share of gaming revenues during the first full year of the market.

This sharp growth is a boon for government revenues and private-market operators, but could mean trouble in the form of problem gambling; Ontario had more than 900,000 active player accounts in its most recent three quarters.

“There is increasing probability of gambling addiction and harm from the numbers,” Michael Naraine, an associate professor in the sport management department at Brock University, said via email.

Nigel Turner, a scientist at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), who studies behavioural addictions, including gambling, said the growth iGO is reporting is quite startling — even though various online gambling products have very been heavily promoted since the launch of the regulated market.

“We’ve been really inundated with sports-betting advertising,” said Turner. “We’ve also been inundated with online-casino advertising.”

He agrees that if more people are gambling, it would be expected that more people will have gambling problems.

‘A national leader’: province

The Ontario government is touting the success of the market so far, but also points to resources it has put in place to protect consumers and provide support for problem gambling.

“As the results show, we are a national leader through our online gaming market,” Andrew Kennedy, a spokesperson for the provincial attorney general, said in an emailed statement.

Kennedy said the province provides $31 million in annual funding for problem gambling; $25 million goes toward treatment programs, while $6 million is earmarked for education and prevention efforts.

Queen's Park seen from the air, with lush trees and grass out front.
The Ontario government is touting the success of its regulated online gambling market, though it also points to resources it has put in place to protect consumers and provide assistance for problem gambling. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Turner said it’s important for people to know there are ways to get help. The CAMH website explains how anyone affected by problem gambling in Ontario — including family members — can do so.

IGaming Ontario, meanwhile, told CBC News via email that it “continues to be pleased with the performance” of the province’s online gaming market, noting it has grown to include more than 40 operators. 

In an email, William Woodhams, CEO of Fitzdares, a British bookmaker that operates in Ontario, said the iGO numbers reflect the industry’s view that the province has developed a healthy and mature market.

“Other provinces and global markets are now looking to Ontario as a benchmark for a healthy market,” said Woodhams, who had previously pointed to the performance edge that casino products held over sports betting in the province to date.

Peter Czegledy, a partner at Toronto’s Aird & Berlis LLP and chair of its gaming group, suspects the Ontario market has room to grow even further “as operators refine their offerings to best suit the market and customer relationships are better established.”

He said via email that it would not be surprising to see eventual industry consolidation, a common progression “in any market that starts off with strong expansion.”

Kennedy said the government hopes “to continue to see growth,” as the industry further expands.

What the industry expected

The single-event sports betting segment of Ontario’s regulated market has drawn particular scrutiny since its launch — including over its advertising, industry ties to professional athletes and sport integrity concerns.

Sports leagues and broadcasters have been under pressure — in Ontario and elsewhere — to reduce the high-wattage promotion of betting-related services amid worries over what that exposure may mean for young viewers.

Experts have also pointed to potential risks for those of legal age as well, including in the types of gambling products being offered to Ontarians.

WATCH | Gambling and the world of sports: 

Sports betting has gone full throttle, but has it gone too far?

Since 2021, when federal legislation loosened up the rules around sports betting, Ontario has gone full throttle, creating what many have called a Wild West gambling environment. CBC’s Jamie Strashin explores how single-game betting has changed the game for some fans and why addiction experts are worried.

Yet Czegledy said the gap between the activity in casino games and sports-related products in Ontario has been in line with what the industry expected, despite the media focus on the betting side.

“The differences in segment performance have followed expected form,” Czegledy said.

The newly released iGO data also provides a breakdown of the gaming segments over the first year of the regulated market.

From April 4, 2022, through the end of March 2023, iGO said the regulated market saw $35.6 billion in total wagers.

Nearly $28 billion of that was spent on casino games and peer-to-peer bingo. That was roughly four times higher than the $7 billion spent on betting, which included sports and esports wagers. Peer-to-peer poker wagers totalled $992 million for the year.

These combined gambling activities generated $1.4 billion in gaming revenues, the iGO reported, with $940 million of that coming from the casino segment and $433 million from betting. Poker accounted for the remainder.

’24/7′ access

These newly released numbers only give a sense of how much online gambling is taking place now, as opposed to prior to the launch of a regulated market, said Andrew Kim, an assistant professor in the psychology department at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Some of the concerns about the shift to a legal market were rooted in how much gambling activity might rise, he said.

On the subject of casino games, he pointed out they are not restricted to the duration of professional sporting events running on television.

“Online casinos are available to you 24/7,” Kim said.

Blue Jay Matt Chapman celebrates an RBI single with Toronto's first base coach, Mark Budzinski.
An ad for a sports betting-related product is seen in the background at Blue Jays-Padres baseball game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre on Tuesday. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Brock University’s Naraine said sports gambling may have captured the most attention from critics, but he sees it as “a red herring,” as casino games are “the bigger culprit.”

Not only are these games accessible around the clock, they can also be played nearly anywhere, he said, and they don’t take as much time to participate in as some types of sports betting might.

Naraine said people enjoy playing these games and may also be seeking to win some cash for use for further gambling.

“Hoping to fund their other sports bets and casino bets, consumers might look for that instant gratification opportunity found in a quick dice roll or spin,” he said.

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