Manitoba says online gambling improving but needs single-game sports bets

manitoba-online-gambling-sports-bettingManitoba’s struggling online gambling site would benefit enormously from being allowed to offer single-game sports betting, according to the provincial lottery corporation that runs the site. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries (ML&L), formerly Manitoba Lotteries, launched its online gambling site in January 2013 as an extension of the site operated by ML&L’s counterparts in British Columbia, which was the first of Canada’s lottery monopolies to take their action online in July 2010. But Manitoba’s site was slow out of the gate, generating profits of just $300k in its first fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the Brandon Sun quoted ML&L’s Andrea Kowal saying the forecast for online profits in fiscal 2013-14 will come in around $1m. That would still be only two-thirds of the profit ML&L had projected the site would earn in its first year of operation, so no need to bust out the champagne just yet. Still, Kowal says ML&L remains “really positive” about the site, which has seen the number of registered accounts rise from 9k in its first six months to its current 16k total.

Online betting handle is expected to hit $10m in the current fiscal year, up from $6m the year before. Kowal said revenue projections depended on the site’s ability to sell lottery tickets, which had been “a little softer than expected.” ML&L’s total revenue from all forms of gambling in the province over the past fiscal year was $604.3m, leaving online revenue too small to break out as a separate line item.

Single-game sports betting would help boost sales, although Kowal said it would be “premature” to offer forecasts of how much extra revenue could be generated online or via the province’s brick-and-mortar casinos. Existing law restricts Canada’s lottery monopolies to parlay sports wagers only and the C-290 legislation that would permit single-game wagers has been stuck in mothballs in the Senate for two years. Kowal noted that most Manitobans have a simple workaround: “They just go on the internet and bet” with any of the numerous internationally-licensed sportsbooks that serve the Canadian market.

Meanwhile, Crown attorneys in Ontario have asked a judge to sentence the leader of an illegal online credit betting operation to three years in the slammer. Benedetto Manasseri was one of 21 individuals arrested in Nov. 2012 as part of Project Amethyst, a joint operation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and Ottawa Police. Manasseri pled guilty to illegal bookmaking in May, one month after his second-in-command Gary Saikaley was handed an 18-month prison sentence.

On Monday, counsel for the 50-year-old Manasseri reminded Judge Hugh Fraser that many others arrested in the case had received nothing more than fines and asset forfeitures. The Ottawa Sun quoted lawyer Michael Edelson pointing out that there was no evidence of the usual violent debt collection methods associated with most credit betting operations and that Manasseri had actually quit the betting ring before law enforcement pounced. Whether Fraser was impressed by this argument will be revealed when he pronounces sentence on Oct. 14.