These days, Ontario gets all the attention when it comes to regulated online gambling in Canada. However, it isn’t the only province trying to chart its own course in that regard.
Saskatchewan is also attempting something unprecedented. Last September, the province announced that it had signed a new Gaming Framework Agreement with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN). FSIN represents 74 First Nations groups making their homes within the province’s borders.
The updated agreement gave the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) the right to operate an online gambling and sports betting site for customers in the province. Revenue from the site will be split evenly between FSIN and provincial coffers.
At the time, no additional details were available, except that SIGA planned to launch the site sometime this year. Today, SIGA announced that it had made its choice of platform. It has signed a vendor agreement with none other than the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) to procure a customized version of the latter’s PlayNow gaming platform.
BCLC’s Interim President and CEO, Lynda Cavanaugh, said in a press release:
This partnership reinforces the confidence the legal gambling industry has in BCLC, and our leadership in providing players with entertaining and engaging gambling experiences through our safe and secure online platform, PlayNow.com. In addition to an innovative suite of online casino and sports-betting products, BCLC’s PlayNow.com is the only gambling website in North America and one of few in the world that offers dedicated player-health specialists – known as GameSense Advisors – via live chat. This is just one way that BCLC supports safer play online.
Saskatchewan Will Be PlayNow’s Third Province
The three largest Canadian provinces – Ontario, BC and Quebec – all have their own lottery-operated online gambling sites. To date, BC is the only one to have shared its platform with other, less populous provinces. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries signed a deal in 2013 with BCLC, bringing PlayNow to that province.
Under Canadian federal law, virtually all gambling is considered a “lottery scheme” and is under the purview of provincial agencies and crown corporations. When it comes to the lottery itself, the three Prairie provinces have banded together, offering tickets through the Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC). WCLC also operates in the northern territories.
After Manitoba teamed up with the BCLC for online gaming, Alberta also struck out on its own. In 2020, it launched its own iGaming site, PlayAlberta, operated by Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, which also manages the province’s retail casinos.
Collaboration Between First Nations And Provincial Government
With the SIGA deal, Saskatchewan seemed to be striking out on yet another path. Having chosen PlayNow as its platform brings it back more closely in line with neighboring Manitoba, at least from a player’s perspective. However, its plan remains unique in that it will be the only province thus far to have included First Nations in its online gambling plans.
In Quebec, the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke first nation has its own online gambling regulatory body, the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission (KGC). However, it set this up of its own accord, and KGC doesn’t coordinate with the provincial lottery in any way. Indeed, there is often friction between the two.
Likewise, First Nations groups have objected to Ontario’s online gambling privatization plan and their lack of inclusion in it. Though a small market, Saskatchewan may receive some attention for having chosen a more collaborative route.
SIGA President & CEO Zane Hansen said:
SIGA is very excited to bring the PlayNow online casino and sports betting experience to Saskatchewan – the PlayNow platform is very competitive against any other online offering. This online offering will integrate into our existing casino operations and will further enhance the entertainment options for SIGA’s and SaskGaming’s customers.
Canadian Interprovincial Poker Will Include Four Provinces
BCLC says that the new Saskatchewan PlayNow site will include over 400 gambling products at launch. Most of these will presumably be slots titles, but the press release also lists live casino games, sports betting and poker.
That last is interesting, as it means that Saskatchewan will join BC, Manitoba and Quebec in sharing poker traffic. PlayNow has its own eponymous poker product, PlayNow Poker. Not only do players in BC and Manitoba currently play against one another, but also included at their tables are opponents from Quebec. Loto-Québec’s poker product, OK Poker, comes from the same third-party supplier as PlayNow’s, and the differences between the two are only cosmetic.
To date, most Canadian online poker players have played at offshore sites, which are a legal gray area in Canada. However, Ontario may soon be cracking down on these offshore sites to protect its new privatized market.
That’s a problem for poker players because Ontario has decided not to allow locally regulated sites to share traffic internationally. Once all the former gray market operators like PokerStars and GGPoker have launched in the regulated market, their players will be cut off from the international pool. That means fewer available games and smaller tournaments.
It’s good news, then, that other provinces see the value in pooling their poker liquidity. Unfortunately, compatibility issues mean this won’t help Ontario unless some of these other provinces launch private markets of their own or Ontario Lottery and Gaming decides to add a PlayNow-compatible poker product to its gaming site, OLG.ca.