British Columbia’s online gambling up one-fifth to record C$179m


Online gambling revenue in the Canadian province of British Columbia enjoyed a record surge in the most recent fiscal year even before COVID-19 shut down land-based options.

On Monday, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) issued its annual report for the 12 months ending March 31, during which the Crown Corporation generated revenue of C$2.53b (US$1.94b), a 2.2% decline from fiscal 2018-19’s total. Net income fell 4.8% to just under C$1.35b.

BC closed its casinos in mid-March due to COVID-19, but this only negatively impacted the fiscal year’s final month. Nonetheless, BCLC’s ‘Casino & Community Gaming Operations’ reported revenue of C$1.83b, down 3.7% year-on-year, while net income dipped 5.5% to C$929.3m.

Slot machine revenue fell 2.3% to C$1.37b while table games fell 8.1% to C$417m. The table decline is slightly larger than the previous year, suggesting that the province’s post-scandal efforts to more properly observe anti-money laundering (AML) compliance continue to act as a drag on revenue.

Land-based bingo revenue was off 9.5% to $20.8m while the province’s poker rooms were the outlier, reporting revenue up a modest 1.7% to C$24m. BCLC claims the overall land-based gaming results were actually flat before the mid-March pandemic shutdown, although tables were still down 4.3% at the time.

The ‘Lottery and eGaming’ division reported total revenue up 1.7% to C$698.2 but net income fell 3.3% to C$417.6m. Lottery sales slipped 3.1% to C$519.2m due to a smaller number of major jackpots and the pandemic shutdown of some lottery retailers.

BCLC’s online gambling site saw its revenue shoot up 19.5% to a record C$179m (and this was largely before the province’s land-based options evaporated). While BCLC doesn’t break out the performance of specific online gaming verticals, it credited the gains to modernizing its parlay sports betting platform, enhancing the live casino offering, streamlining customer registration and improving its mobile app.

It happened late in the fiscal year, but PlayNow also boosted its weekly deposit limits from C$9,999 – just under the federal reporting requirement – to C$100k. BCLC justified the move at the time by saying it would “expand [PlayNow’s] appeal and move high limit players away from unregulated, grey market gambling sites.” Combined with the pandemic surge in online activity, PlayNow’s 2020-21 figures should be off the charts. 

This spring, when BCLC first began making noise about the surge in activity PlayNow was enjoying, the Corp was asked if it would share a slice of PlayNow’s revenue with communities, which earn a share of profits from local casinos but were earning nothing while these venues were closed.

While BCLC initially played coy regarding this request, the provincial government rejected any sharing of the online spoils in June. Attorney General David Eby said PlayNow’s revenue was earmarked for “key programs and essential services” across the province, and thus “a change to the distribution of online gambling revenue is not contemplated at this time.”