Nevada was the first king of the sports betting industry, mainly because it was the only state in all of the land to permit it. Then, wanting to wear the crown came New Jersey, and in 2018 following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the Garden State quickly rose up and asserted itself onto the throne. Atlantic City was no longer second fiddle to Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the reign did not last long as their big brother to the north recently arrived. After launching sports betting on January 8, New York has squashed its two predecessors. The Empire State totaled more than $ 1.6 billion in less than four weeks — the upcoming Super Bowl and March Madness certainly did not hurt either — dwarfing New Jersey’s single-month record of $ 1.3 billion set in October 2021.
Like the Nets leaving East Rutherford for Brooklyn, the title of US Sports Betting King traveled across the George Washington Bridge (or Lincoln Tunnel depending on traffic) and into New York.
While more and more states continue to regulate sports betting — currently legal in 30 states plus Washington, DC — no other behemoths appear to pose a threat to New York. But on April 4, just in time for the NCAA men’s basketball national championship that evening and The Masters teeing off Thursday, Canada’s most populous province is opening its regulated sports betting / iGaming market.
“Ontario is like 40% of the country’s population,” says Aubrey Levy, senior vice president of marketing and content and head of esports at theScore. “Without question, Ontario is the big prize for now.”
As of March 28, there were 14 operators, including theScore, champing at the bit with licenses in hand waiting to sprint from the starting gate.
With a population of 14.2 million, Ontario would be the fifth-most-populous US state behind California, Texas, Florida and New York. Pennsylvania, the current No. 5 which boasts approximately 13 million residents, accumulated more than $ 500 million in legal gaming revenue in 2021; Ontario is expected to generate approximately $ 800 million this year.
Deloitte Canada estimates the legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada could grow to close to CA $ 28 billion within five years. Due to its population size and market potential, Ontario is expected to rank second behind New York in terms of sports betting revenue, but before sports books start drooling over the billions of Canadian dollars up for grabs, they have to do their homework in order to get approved to work along with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the provincial governing regulatory body for gambling.
Ontario has said it does not want to be another pitstop in the new North American gold rush, according to Levy, telling operators it will not permit the endless barrage of in-your-face promotion-led marketing campaigns and creative. For theScore, that’s a good thing, especially in their own backyard; the company headquarters are in Toronto. Launched in 1994 as a digital sports media company called Sportscope and later rebranded as theScore, the company was bought by Penn National Gaming for $ 2 billion in August 2021.
With approximately 4 million daily active app users and more than 1.4 million in Ontario, Levy said theScore and its mobile sports book, theScore Bet, will rely on its strategic approach including message-led creative, an integration between media and betting, and in- house technology rather than the promotion-led campaigns that have dominated the American market. It’s a major reason why theScore, which operates in four US states (Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey), did not gear up for the American arms race against major players like FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars, PointsBet. Another reason is because Barstool Sportsbook, which operates in 12 states, is also under the Penn umbrella as of January 2020.
“It’s an asset and an advantage, but certainly not something we’re taking for granted,” Levy says. “There’s zero expectation that just because you loved us before means you’ll love us now.”
Not only is Ontario commercially friendly for these operators, but they do not need to be anchored to a casino, racetrack or retail footprint in order to apply. Including igaming and icasino along with sports betting makes the province more enticing as well.
With 14 operators, including theScore, DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars already having eyes fixed on north of the border, some experts expect the list to grow up to 30 operators in Ontario. For comparison, four operators were fully licensed ahead of New York’s coming out party to kickoff the new year.
While the initial sports betting blitz in the US has been noisy and loud, Levy expects a more strategic approach to Ontario for operators jostling for supremacy in the Great White North.
“It’s an entirely different scenario for us launching in Ontario,” he says. “That’s where we’re headquartered, that’s where we’re set up. We have a large user base across North America but it’s unparalleled in Canada. Our brand just means something more there. There’s kind of a cultural connective tissue we have to that market that we just do not have in the US
“Now that we’re on the precipice of it, exciting is without question and probably an understated term for how we’re feeling about the Ontario launch.”