What happened to horse racing?

The launch of Ontario’s new internet betting market has given players in the province a plethora of legal betting options, but horse racing isn’t one of them yet.

Ontario sports betting received a shake-up Monday when a new regulated iGaming marketplace was launched, allowing private sports betting and online casino operators to operate in the province.

The market includes online sportsbooks that may have previously been accepting bets in Ontario, including on horse racing, despite being regulated overseas or outside the province. The Ontario government has said that provincial players are spending almost $1 billion a year on online gambling and that about 70% of that action was flowing to “unregulated gray market websites”.

Some bettors are now realizing that they can no longer bet on the “Sport of Kings” with the bookmakers that have joined the province’s new iGaming market.

“It’s important to note that Ontario’s regulated gaming market framework does not allow horse racing at this time,” a spokesperson for the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission, the market regulator.

It’s complicated

Ontarians can still legally bet on horse racing. The province has more than a dozen physical racetracks, even more off-track betting facilities and two apps offered by operator Woodbine Entertainment Group, HPIbet and Dark Horse Bets.

However, one place you won’t find horse racing betting right now is in the province’s new iGaming marketplace. The reasons why seem to be a bit complicated.

Oversight of horse racing betting in Canada is done at the federal, not provincial, government level. The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) is the body that regulates betting, and as the name suggests, betting is done within a pool-based model. From the betting pools come the winning payouts, operator fees, and taxes.

The CPMA can issue wagering permits and licenses for Canadian racetracks and OTBs associated with them, not for the online sportsbooks now opening shops in Ontario. Meanwhile, the provinces are involved in overseeing the operation of the sport itself, such as setting race dates and licensing tracks.

But Canada has been tightening the rules for legal sports betting.

While Canadians have long been able to legally bet on single-horse races using the federally run pari-mutuel model, there was a long-standing ban on other sports. That ban collapsed last year after federal lawmakers passed a bill that authorized provinces to offer single-game sports betting.

The bill that passed and became law, C-218, would initially have allowed provinces to also offer wagers on a single horse race. This caused pushback from the horse racing industry, which was concerned about bookmakers offering fixed-odds betting on the sport, rather than the pari-mutuels that provide funding to the sector.

“If provinces and territories were to offer and regulate horse racing wagering, it could take customers away from racetrack operators, who are currently the only entities to which the CPMA has issued wagering permits,” said Lisa Foss, director executive of the CPMA. , during a February 2021 House of Commons committee meeting. “This would put further pressure on the horse racing industry and the CPMA revenue base.”

C-218 was eventually amended to remove horse racing from the bill and, as a result, from the menu of sports on which provincial governments could offer single-event wagering. Entities owned by the provincial government, such as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., now accept wagers on individual games, but have not been accepting wagers on individual horse races.

Ontario’s iGaming framework is also legally dependent on a new government agency executing operating agreements with private companies. Those operators, some of which previously offered horse racing betting to provincial residents, no longer accept bets on the sport in Ontario after signing those contracts with the agency, which is called iGaming Ontario.

A solution?

No retail sportsbooks have yet been approved in Ontario, at racetracks or otherwise. However, there is talk of finding a way to insert horse racing into Ontario’s iGaming framework.

Woodbine Entertainment currently holds the only CPMA-issued parimutuel betting license in Ontario. The permit allows the Toronto-based company to run betting at all horse racing tracks in the province, as well as gambling conducted through Ontario OTBs HPIbet and Dark Horse Bets.

The racecourse operator would now like to see its network integrated with those of the province’s new online sports betting houses. Some of those bookmakers even already have horse racing experience.

Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson said in an interview with Covers on Thursday that sports betting is going to “cannibalize” the horse racing industry, which is responsible for generating about 60,000 jobs in the province, the company says. .

Industry protection fueled the effort to remove horse racing from Bill C-218, and is now prompting Woodbine, a nonprofit organization (which aims to support the industry) to seek a role in the industry. iGaming market.

“If these sports betting operators want to offer horse racing, they have to do it mutually, and the only place to get it is in Woodbine in Ontario,” Lawson said.

Woodbine also does not believe that his participation will require additional changes to federal law, only that provincial authorities adjust their interpretation of the law accordingly. Lawson he said it would be more of a marketing and hosting deal, with the operators offering horse racing bets, but actually offering them for Woodbine.

There is interest from sports betting operators, according to Lawson. He now hopes that the change in attitude among regulators will happen fairly quickly, within a month or two.

“We were dropped off at the exit gate” on April 4, Lawson said. “I’m frustrated, but I’m still hopeful that this isn’t a huge leap of faith to get there.”

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