Ontario’s online poker market kicks off with a two-tier system

a close up of a pile of playing cards with a shallow depth of field, focus on the king of hearts in the middle of the pile.  Next Monday, Ontario online poker will be split: those operating in the new regulated space and those continuing to operate overseas


When Ontario-regulated online poker goes live next week, PokerStars and perhaps others will continue to operate overseas, for now, giving consumers access to the global marketplace and a more large number of players.

At the same time, a handful of other operators are planning to enter the segregated and regulated market from the start. The situation will create a de facto two-tier system when it launches on Monday, April 4, at least for the short term.

No one knows how long regulators will allow this setup to continue, but it should have a mostly negative impact on consumers in the province.

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Who is All-In?

The furthest appearing operator with launch plans in Ontario is 888poker. It was one of the first operators to be licensed by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and was the first to announce its launch plans when the market opened on April 4.

Another operator that may be launching is Bet365, although less is known about their plans. The UK-based private operator has registered a poker domain with the AGCO and could eventually deploy Playtech’s poker platform in the province.

BetMGM received its license from AGCO March 21th. Since then, Poker Industry PRO learned that the operator also plans to offer online poker on the Ontario regulated market.

BetMGM’s entry raises questions as to whether partypoker still plans to move into the province as Entain owns half of the former and all of the latter. Entain executives have said in the past that Ontario will be a new market for partypoker in 2022, but the AGCO has not yet issued an Internet game operator license for the brand.

It is possible that BetMGM and partypoker form a network and share a pool of players, much like in New Jersey with Borgata. Poker Industry PRO recently discovered a BetMGM tests online poker client with Ontario in the title and the words “powered by partypoker US Network” at the top. This name is currently used to describe the separate player pools the operator has in Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Outside (for now)

When PokerStars revealed in an exclusive interview with fuse poker in February that it was working with Ontario regulators to obtain a license, it was the first time that the operator had acknowledged that it planned to launch in the province.

Ultimately, the AGCO wants all operators out of the gray market. But the regulator has clarified that it will allow operators who have started the licensing process but have not yet executed their operating agreements, to temporarily continue their existing business in the market, meaning that they will continue to be allowed to operate from offshore. In the case of PokerStars, this would be through its multi-jurisdictional gaming license in Malta.

How long such a two-tier system will last is unclear, and social media discussions between players and regulators paint a confusing picture.

In an unconfirmed report, a player reported that a PokerStars customer service representative said Ontarians should be able to participate in SCOOP 2022 – a series that begins in May and ends on June 1. If accurate, that would mean PokerStars is unlikely to fall into the regulated sphere for at least another two months.

A PokerStars moderator on social media platform Discord also recently said it was “business as usual for our players” as the operator pushes for an internet gaming operator license. nearby AGCO.

Poker Industry PRO is also aware that GGPoker is not planning an April 4th launch and will announce a delayed launch date in the near future. GG had partnered with WSOP to launch online poker in the province under its brand, but using GG’s poker platform.


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Potential problems

While the AGCO’s rationale for allowing a two-tier system to exist initially for Ontario online poker seems valid, it has its downsides.

By simultaneously allowing fully licensed operators to operate alongside competitors who have started the process, the regulator hopes to avoid a blackout period – a phenomenon that has occurred in some European markets in which black market operators fill the void. empty with unregulated offers.

Apart from the disadvantage faced by operators fully committed to the segregated market by having smaller pools of players, they also tend to offer inferior products to their counterparts still operating in the gray market. In a sense, online poker players in Ontario would have better products to choose from the longer operators would stay in the offshore market – but at the cost of not having the same regulatory protections from the AGCO.

Learn more in our complete guide to online poker and iGaming in Ontario”,