Ontario poker players may soon get a fifth regulated option. In the process, though, they’ll lose access to the last major international site still serving the province in a gray market capacity.
The Ontario online gambling market is now almost five months old. Shortly before it launched on April 4, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) approved NSUS Limited to operate at wsop.ca.
NSUS is the parent company of GGPoker, which has become the dominant force in international poker since PokerStars pulled out of Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
WSOP is, of course, the World Series of Poker. It operates an online poker site in the US using 888poker as its technology provider. However, it has partnered with GGPoker internationally to offer online bracelet events for non-Americans.
It will now extend that partnership to Ontario in a bigger way, using GGPoker’s software as its brand platform in Canada.
When Will WSOP Ontario Launch?
There’s still no official word about when the new partnership will launch. However, a minor update on AGCO’s website suggests that the regulatory gears have clicked one cog closer to completion.
As of Friday, NSUS’s Internet Gaming Operator approval now has August 26, 2022, as its issue date, rather than April 4, the day the market opened. It has also added ggpoker.ca as a second domain name and includes permission for a mobile app titled WSOP by GGPoker.
Approval from AGCO doesn’t mean the site can launch quite yet. The companies must still enter into an operating agreement with iGaming Ontario, an AGCO subsidiary that “conducts and manages” online gambling per Canadian federal law.
However, AGCO’s policy is to try to synchronize its approvals with the signing of operating agreements. It does this because its own policies require authorized companies to cease any unregulated operations in the province. Ensuring that the two halves of the regulatory process occur almost simultaneously means no blackout period for gray market operators pivoting to the white market.
In other words, this update probably means an operating agreement is imminent for WSOP and GGPoker. A launch should follow shortly after that.
In the meantime, the poker sites already operating legally in the Ontario market are:
- BetMGM Poker*
* although Partypoker and BetMGM Poker are two skins on the same network in New Jersey, they operate independently in Ontario
Why Can’t WSOP Ontario Players Compete Internationally?
The new ggpoker.ca site authorized by AGCO will presumably be a second skin for the same “WSOP by GGPoker” product. Based on the launches of other poker rooms, existing GGPoker players in Ontario should be prompted to migrate their accounts once the new product goes live.
That will mean losing access to the international GGPoker site when playing from within Ontario’s borders. Likewise, those playing on the new WSOP site will only be doing so against other Ontarians.
That’s an unfortunate consequence of the Ontario government’s policy decisions surrounding online gambling privatization. It has created what’s known as a ring-fenced market and failed to provide an avenue for entering traffic-sharing agreements with other regulated markets.
When it comes to single-player games, ring-fencing is mostly only a problem for operators. However, it’s much more limiting to players in multiplayer games like poker. It will mean fewer available seats for cash games, longer waits to start sit-and-goes, and smaller fields and prize pools for multiplayer tournaments. In Ontario, it has also killed the daily fantasy sports industry entirely, as sites feel the player pool won’t be large enough to turn a profit.
On the other hand, the WSOP launch does mean Ontarians will get to compete for gold bracelets and possibly Circuit rings, so it isn’t all bad news. And there’s nothing in Canadian law that would prevent interprovincial networking if other provinces follow Ontario’s lead and establish their own ring-fenced private markets. The lottery-operated poker products OK Poker and PlayNow Poker already share traffic between BC, Ontario, and Manitoba, with Saskatchewan soon to join them.