The self-exclusion issues could be viewed as growing pains, as Ontario has had more than 70 sites begin providing online sports betting, poker, and casino gambling since launching its competitive iGaming market in April 2022.
The regulator of online sports betting sites in Canada’s most populous province has closed a loophole — involving a responsible-gambling program, no less — that players might have used to dodge losing wagers.
Ontario sports betting sites must provide a voluntary self-exclusion program that logs a player out of their account and keeps them logged out for six months, a year, or five years, among other potential terms. The same program required operators to cancel all future bets for self-excluded players and to help return "unused funds" to those users.
However, Yahoo Finance Canada reported last June that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) was aware of concerns that gamblers could be self-excluding from online sportsbooks to avoid losing bets. At the same time, users could bet the other side of an event with another operator, possibly giving them both a refund and a winning wager.
With this in mind, the rules were recently updated to clarify the voiding and refunding of bets for self-excluded players. While wagers are to be "brought to an end" when a player self-excludes, the AGCO now requires operators to only refund a bet if a user enrolls in a self-exclusion program before the start of the wagered-upon event.
“Operators are not required to refund a player’s wager if the player enrolls in a self-exclusion program after the commencement of an event or series of events on which the outcome of the wager is determined,” the iGaming standards now state.
The AGCO told Covers in an email that the change was made “after careful consideration and engagement with the industry,” and that it was effective as of February 28.
It’s a very Ontario-specific problem and solution, as the province remains the only one in Canada that allows multiple private-sector operators of online sportsbooks to take bets. Most other provinces in Canada have only a government-owned lottery or gaming corporation providing legal sports betting.
The self-exclusion issues could be viewed as growing pains, as Ontario has had more than 70 sites begin providing online sports betting, poker, and casino gambling since launching its competitive iGaming market in April 2022. The raft of operators handled more than $11.5 billion in wagers from October 1 to December 31, generating $457 million in total gaming revenue, approximately 20% of which was owed to the Ontario government.
Those gambling websites can operate in Ontario via agreements with a government agency called iGaming Ontario (iGO), a subsidiary of the AGCO. That subsidiary has vowed to keep the success of its private gaming market going with a further crackdown on illegal betting sites.
The unique nature of Canadian law means iGO and operators must work together closely. Even so, Gaming News Canada recently reported that operators were surprised to hear from iGO that they were on the hook for some banking-related fees.
IGo is also responsible for delivering a provincewide self-exclusion program that, once a player opts into it, could bar them from all Ontario-regulated iGaming sites. The agency recently told Covers in an email that the program remains under development and that specific details about its implementation would come at an “appropriate” time.
“A centralized self-exclusion program requires an integrated effort across all Ontario regulated operator platforms and technology systems while ensuring that player privacy is protected by a program that is secure and confidential,” iGO said. "Accordingly, the centralized self-exclusion program is being informed by best practices identified in academic research and from learnings across international jurisdictions with multi-Operator igaming self-exclusion programs.”