PlayOLG.ca, the Spielo G2-powered online gambling site of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), officially commenced its customer-focused preview on Friday. Invitations to check out the site have been sent to 500 members of OLG’s Winner’s Circle Rewards (WCR) program. A further 17k WCR members will be invited to play over the next few weeks before the site is opened up to all residents of Ontario aged 19 years or over sometime in January.
PlayOLG follows in the footsteps of other Canadian provinces whose lottery monopolies have launched online gambling sites. So far, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba have launched sites offering casino, poker and parlay sports betting verticals, while the four Atlantic provinces offer lottery sales, bingo and sports betting.
PlayOLG currently offers slots, casino table games and lottery ticket sales. Poker, bingo and parlay sports wagering products are in the pipeline. Of the 500 invited WCR members, 84 took PlayOLG up on the offer, making an average deposit of $74. Within five years of its launch date, OLG hopes its new wagering site will contribute an additional $100m to the provincial government’s annual revenue.
OLG may live to regret announcing those revenue targets. While Ontario is Canada’s largest province with nearly 13m residents, Quebec’s population is nearly 8m, yet Loto-Quebec’s Espace-jeux site reported just $13.6m in revenue for the six months ending Sept. 29. Things have fared better in British Columbia, where the PlayNow.com site reported online revenue of $91m in fiscal 2013-14.
PlayOLG is already coming under fire from critics who feel the weekly maximum deposit limit of $9.999 is too high and also for allowing customers to wager on credit. In addition to allowing customers to link their PlayOLG account to their bank accounts, the site allows players to fund their online accounts via Visa or Mastercard. Paul Pellizzari, OLG’s social responsibility chief, told the Toronto Star that the site was “entering a competitive marketplace” and thus the need to offer options similar to its internationally licensed competitors.
A NEW BEGINNING OR THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
The need to compete with international firms is also behind the recent drive to revise Canada’s Criminal Code to permit provinces to issue licenses to firms like PokerStars, which is now owned by Montreal-based, Toronto-listed Amaya Gaming, which already has technology supply deals with some provincial lottery outfits. The licensing recommendation was made in a report released last month by Quebec’s government.
While licensing private operators would allow provinces to add a new revenue stream, the provinces would likely find their own sites being even further eclipsed by their competitors, who would presumably be given a free hand to market their wares to local residents. As such, the provinces may decide to follow another of the Quebec report’s recommendations, namely, to end the incompatibility of provincial lottery corps acting as both regulator and operator.
Given cash-strapped governments’ traditional eagerness to trade long-term revenue for one-off lump sum payments, the coming years could see provinces seek to get out of the operating business entirely by privatizing their online gambling sites.