Ontario Online Poker Enters New Regulated World With April 4 Launch

Written By Duncan Smith on March 14, 2022 - Last Updated on June 6, 2022
Ontario Online Poker PokerStars 888Poker WSOP

Starting on April 4, Ontario’s gambling community found itself in a brave new era. That includes the already robust Ontario online poker community.

As the province moves to regulate online gaming, the kinds of games and providers available to residents will change. Depending on what your preferred online gambling pastime is, that may lead to some uncertainty. But if you’re an online poker player, there’s good news in these strange times.

Here are some of the new developments to know in the Ontario online poker world after the April 4 launch.

PokerStars plans to be part of new regulated market

Online poker giant Pokerstars will remain the industry leader in Ontario as the site and regulators work together to provide a seamless transition. The games will be geographically ring-fenced, available only to players within Ontario’s physical borders, but the games will go on.

A downside of joining the regulated market in Ontario is losing a much bigger worldwide player pool.

According to a spokesperson from Pokerstars, in a statement to PlayOntario:

“We’re working closely with the local regulators and plan to have an attractive offering across our products for our players in Ontario. Of course, we’ll want to celebrate being fully licensed in our birth province, but while launch plans are a focus, taking a look at what’s important to players on a day-to-day basis and making that as attractive as can be is our priority. We know we have a really engaged community in Ontario, so we will continue to look at what we can offer in terms of rewards and experiences as we move forward. Our players can rest assured, we’ll be in touch with any additional information on anything they may need to do when the time is right. In the meantime, we will continue as we are currently as we work alongside the AGCO and iGO on the new model.”

PokerStars leaving the grey market and entering the newly regulated market, under the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and its subsidiary iGaming Ontario, brings up a few issues for players though.

We’re still waiting for the regulated switchover to occur though.

What will change for Pokerstars players in Ontario?

How exactly things will look in the finished product remains to be seen. But Pokerstars is the most experienced site out there when it comes to tailoring its services to a regulated region.

Along with multiple international sites, they have American sites in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

While traffic in some lesser-played games can dwindle to very little (2-7 single draw or 8-game, anybody?), it won’t be hard at all for players to find action in games like No Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Omaha. That fact holds true even in a regionally ring-fenced environment.

Outside of Ontario, current great market brands such as PokerStars will still be able to operate in other provinces. Expect other provinces to undergo similar changes to their online gambling environments as time goes on.

Michigan provides reasonable guidance on what to expect

Using Pokerstars Michigan as an example, player rewards are mirrored after the worldwide site’s system, where chests are earned via player points determined by rake paid. Earning a chest gets you a random cash amount (or casino credit, if you’d like to spend your rewards on slots or online table games).

Whether existing Pokerstars players will use their current screen names or have the opportunity to make new ones remains to be seen. In addition, how any existing player bonuses on the worldwide site will be paid out on Pokerstars Ontario is an open question.

Fortunately, Pokerstars has a sterling reputation for taking care of their players. This is not their first geographical ring-fenced rodeo. There are no other sites out there with the depth of experience in navigating these developing situations that Pokerstars has accrued over the years.

Pokerstars also has extensive experience in game security and providing a fair playing environment for all players. While some sites have shown no interest at all in cracking down on bot networks and real-time assistance (RTA) software, Pokerstars is the golden standard.

Who will compete with Pokerstars in Ontario market?

Once Pokerstars gets the ball rolling in Ontario’s regulated market, it’s safe to say other big names will follow suit. One site to watch is BetMGM Poker, which is also present in the Michigan market. The user experience is a bit less fluid on BetMGM than that of Pokerstars.

UPDATE: BetMGM Poker launched during Ontario’s first week of regulated private markets.

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But in 2022’s online poker world, it could be a whole lot worse. Competition between industry leaders is never a bad thing for the customer.

When the news came out that Ontario would leave the online global gambling market, it may have seemed like the sky was falling on enthusiasts and professionals alike. As it turns out, that’s not the case. Things will look different, but it’s no disaster for players in Ontario after all.

Another poker operator, WSOP, appears headed to Canada as well. Its partner GG Poker has registered the WSOP name for registration with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

888Poker also is shifting from the grey market to the regulated market as well. Others are likely to follow.

No Europeans: A good thing or a bad thing?

On the downside, higher-stakes games will be harder to come by for professionals and wealthy recreational players.

While 5/10 NLHE games and higher run around the clock on the worldwide site, they may run much less frequently. Ontario has a massive population with over 14 million residents. But the hit to the province’s high-stakes online games could be significant. That’s because wealthy European players help drive the action and provide liquidity.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that many of the toughest players in the world at all stakes are European. So, playing against an exclusively Ontarian player pool will probably make life a bit easier on your average player at most of the stakes that run regularly.

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Duncan Smith

An Ontario native, Duncan Smith is a writer and editor with an extensive background in both poker and the NBA. His byline has appeared for outlets like The Athletic and Forbes SportsMoney, and he was both the Editor-in-Chief and lead writer for Hoops Habit.

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