Canada’s largest province plans to end its online gambling monopoly and open up the sector to private companies.
On Thursday, Ontario’s new Tory government delivered its first budget, which came with a promise to widen the online gambling options for the province’s nearly 15m residents. The province currently has a single locally authorized online gambling site, PlayOLG.ca, which is operated by the province’s own Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG).
The Tories plan to “establish a competitive market for online legal gambling that will reflect consumer choice” by (apparently) allowing private online operators to apply for licenses to operate in Ontario. (Similar plans were announced years ago across the border in Quebec but that province has so far proven to be all talk and no action.) Ontario plans to consult with industry stakeholders before establishing a regulatory system that “reflects consumer preferences, fosters an exciting gaming experience and minimizes the burden on business while ensuring appropriate protections are in place.”
The budget also calls for allowing Ontarians to be able to purchase OLG lottery products via their smartphones. PlayOLG currently has a mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices and, while it does offer casino games, it doesn’t permit lottery ticket sales (although, weirdly, the website does).
PlayOLG launched over four years ago but remains something of an afterthought in OLG’s overall operations, contributing just C$73.1m (US$54.6m) to the total C$7.58b the monopoly generated in fiscal 2017-18. That pales in comparison to the numbers brought in by the provincially-run sites in British Columbia and Quebec, both of which have significantly smaller populations.
Gambling was a major focus of the Tories’ budget, as the province intends to push the federal government to renew efforts to allow single-game sports betting. Under current law, provincial gambling monopolies are limited to parlay betting products, which hold little appeal for serious bettors. The most recent attempt to overturn that federal restriction went down to defeat in 2016.
The budget also includes plans to allow OLG’s army of lottery terminals to allow “more interactive gaming experiences,” the details of which went unspecified. The province’s land-based casinos will also be given the right to actively promote the fact that they offer free booze to gamblers, something the budget claims will enable the venues to “more effectively compete with those in the United States.”
Sticking with the ‘vice is nice’ theme, the Tories also want to roll back the time by which bars, restaurants and golf courses can start selling booze from its current 11am to 9am. The Tories are also suggesting that it might allow bars to continue selling hooch past the current 2am cutoff. Alcohol consumption will also be permitted in public areas such as parks, while convenience stores will finally be permitted to sell beer and wine.
Earlier in the week, the Tories announced that they would change laws to permit tailgating, which, for people outside North America, involves drinking copious quantities of beer from the back of a pickup truck (or car, motorhome, school bus, etc.) parked outside a sports venue.
John Fraser, interim leader of the opposition Liberal party, said he was having a hard time understanding the Tories’ ongoing obsession with alcohol. Fraser went as far as to label Premier Doug Ford – brother of Toronto’s deceased crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford – as ‘Premier Wooderson,’ a reference to Matthew McConnaghey’s party-hearty character in the ’70s stoner classic Dazed & Confused. Alright, alright, alright…