By Mark Wadie

Poker Stars To Launch Ring-Fenced Network in Ontario

So far talk of Ontario’s online gambling market has all been about the future for sportsbook and casino betting in the province. But reports published last week on a leading online poker news website have shed light on how online poker will look under the terms of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s licensing model.

Poker Fuse reports that Poker Stars, who run one of the world’s biggest online poker networks, has been carrying out operational work to be able to launch ring-fenced poker tables exclusive to players from Ontario soon after the market is live on April 4th.

Poker Stars, a subsidiary of Flutter, are already regulated in 20 different markets so confirmation that they will be taking part in what is widely regarded to be one of the biggest potential markets in North America is not unexpected.

So, what does this mean for Ontario’s poker players already registered and betting at Poker Stars tables on their global network?

If you count yourself in those numbers then you should prepare yourself for a change in the set-up of your poker network from April.

Under the current terms of iGaming Ontario’s model, Ontario’s players will not be able to mix with those from other countries, or even provinces in Canada. In order for this to happen, iGaming Ontario would have to sign what is known as an inter-jurisdictional gaming compact, something which they have not yet entered into.

The likely scenario right now is that at some point soon after April 4th Poker Stars will re-direct players from Ontario to ring-fenced tables. There are downsides to this of course. With less liquidity in the network, tournament jackpots will be smaller. But ring-fenced networks are not a new thing – Poker Stars has run them successfully in Europe in the past, and still does so in Portugal. And in this case they still believe it will be possible to create an attractive proposition for their players, both existing and new.

However, it will make it harder for Poker Stars to compete with the black-market sites who run global networks without such restrictions. This is something that iGaming Ontario will be keen to avoid so it seems likely that the gaming compact option will at least be given consideration in the future.

The good news is that unlike in other markets which have become regulated, in Ontario poker players on the Stars network are not likely to see a blackout between the opening of the market and Stars’ ring-fenced network going live. Reports suggest that instead there will be a transitional period in which licensed operators can continue as they are until full authorisation is given to switch on their new tables.

We will continue to report on developments in the poker industry in Ontario as we hear about them. In the meantime, representatives from Kindred and Points Bet were discussing the challenges and opportunities of the new market in Ontario at a webinar held at Brock University in St Catharines last week. It gave a fascinating insight into how brands like Unibet and PointsBet see Ontario’s online betting market developing during the transition from grey market to a fully-licensed one. You can read our report here.