In a matter of days, the Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island will stand alone as the last Canadian holdouts on the subject of online casino games.
It has been an action-packed few years for online gambling in Canada. Ontario’s April 2022 regulated online gambling launch has taken center stage. Observers are understandably keeping a watchful eye on early data. Not only is it a potentially massive market, but also because it’s Canada’s first experiment with online gambling privatization. (Alberta is following suit in a limited way, with sports betting).
Other provinces offer online gaming and sports betting through their provincial lotteries. The delay for Saskatchewan has been because it decided to take a different tack. Though it has partnered with First Nations to create the site, it will rely on technology supplied by the BC Lottery Corporation to power the games.
Atlantic Canada has had the slowest time of it overall. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation, which serves four provinces, brought online casino games to New Brunswick in 2021. Nova Scotia agreed to allow them earlier this year, but the other two provinces have yet to come around.
Groundbreaking Province-First Nations Pact Coming to Fruition
In an Oct 21 announcement, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) confirmed a launch date for the new site. Residents of the prairie province will have access to legal online gaming starting next Saturday, Nov 3.
SIGA operates seven retail casinos in the province. Although it will handle online operations in Saskatchewan, players will use the same site, PlayNow.com, as their peers in British Columbia and Manitoba.
Saskatchewan residents aged 19 and older are already eligible to pre-register at PlayNow. However, they won’t be able to play until Nov 3.
The launch comes more than four months after the province’s selection of PlayNow as its gaming platform. A year earlier, it had revealed its plan for the new Gaming Framework Agreement with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and SIGA.
The agreement is the first of its kind in Canada. Revenue from PlayNow in Saskatchewan will be split evenly between FSIN and the province. FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said at the time of the original announcement that the deal “shows that when you put differences aside for the overall positive economic impacts, we can do this together.”
He reiterated the sentiment when announcing the launch:
This historical partnership is the first of its kind, with a First Nations operator for online gaming with revenue sharing between First Nations and the Province. This will provide many economic benefits to the residents of the province and our First Nations communities.
SIGA President and CEO Zane Hansen expressed similar hopes:
Residents will be pleased to know that when they play on the PlayNow.com site, the proceeds are reinvested back into the province [unlike with other, unregulated gray market sites]… Similar to the existing brick-and-mortar casinos in the province, all net proceeds from the PlayNow.com site are reinvested back into Saskatchewan.
PlayNow Expands to a Third Province
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), a Crown corporation, was ahead of its time, establishing PlayNow in 2004. Manitoba was the second province to adopt the platform in January 2013.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba both use the Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC) for their retail lotteries. However, it has not made a foray into online gambling, leaving those two provinces without a local option. The third prairie province, Alberta, has struck out on its own with a site called PlayAlberta.
Of the PlayNow SK launch, SIGA President and CEO Zane Hansen said:
We are excited to be the exclusive provider of Saskatchewan’s first and only legal online gaming site, which will provide a safe and secure option for residents to play their favorite casino games and bet on their favorite sports teams online.
It bears mentioning that the BCLC’s status as an industry leader extends beyond the creation of PlayNow. It has also been ahead of the curve in responsible gaming.
Its GameSense program has proven so successful at PlayNow that BetMGM Casino has licensed it for use in the US. Among other things, GameSense offers live chat services with GameSense Advisors. These specialists stand by to provide personal, real-time responsible gambling support to players who feel they may have a problem.
Rider Nation Goes Online
Alongside the launch announcement, PlayNow revealed a sponsorship partnership with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. As part of the partnership, the Roughriders’ jerseys now feature the PlayNow logo. Onsite registrations and promotions for the upcoming Saskatchewan launch are underway at the team’s home, Mosaic Stadium.
The partnership is a natural fit. The four-time Grey Cup-winning club, which plays in the CFL’s West Division, is the highest-profile professional sports team in the mostly-rural province. It’s also of great historical importance to Canada. Founded in 1910, the Roughriders owe multiple distinctions to that organizational continuity. They are:
- The oldest North American pro sports team west of St. Louis (not counting east coast teams that moved west later)
- North America’s oldest community-owned professional sports franchise
- The fourth-oldest active professional gridiron football team
- The fifth-oldest active professional team in North America for any sport other than baseball
The Roughriders enjoy outsized popularity in what is a very sparsely populated area. Fans come from all over the province and even from neighboring northern states. When the team plays at home in Regina, Mosaic Stadium can handle a crowd of up to 35,000, an impressive size for a town of only about 250,000 people.
The benefits for a provincial site of partnering with such a team are obvious. SaskGaming President and CEO Susan Flett said that having it in place from day one is “ideal” for an immediate post-launch boost for PlayNow. Better yet, Saskatchewan will host the 109th Grey Cup on Nov 20.