Despite an open market, online poker in Ontario is off to a slow start due to the government’s decision to limit pools to the province.
Ontario made the move to ring-fence online gambling in April. That led poker operators to depart the global market for the first time since games of chance played for money moved onto the Internet. The same Ontario-only pool rules have also curtailed daily fantasy sports in the province.
There’s no easy way to predict how smaller poker pools will go. But, so far, it hasn’t gone well for Ontario-based gamblers. With most operators departing the province (so far Pokerstars and PartyPoker are exceptions), players suddenly have been left with just a fraction of the player pool they’re accustomed to on sites such as BetMGM and 888.
Only 70 online poker players in Ontario now
As of April 25, three weeks after the transition to ring-fenced gaming, the total number of peak concurrent players in the province was a meagre 70, with about two-thirds of that number playing on 888, according to a report.
And in a hilarious twist to this saga, even the practically unknown Canada Poker Network — I had never heard of it, and I am a poker player from Canada — has almost three times as many concurrent players as Ontario’s regulated sites combined.
Pokerstars holds all the cards
There’s always time for Ontario’s gamblers to come flocking, but we’re a month into this and it appears that interest is minimal. Pokerstars is a grey-market operator that has yet to become regulated in Ontario. That is having an impact on the market.
Worse, it’s a double-edged sword for the province, its players and the young provincial gambling economy and Pokerstars is the only clear winner at this point. They get to keep their players and the liquidity that comes with them, the players get to keep their current games if they frequent Pokerstars, but the rest of the participants in this fragile scenario starve.
In spite of having a population that dwarfs fellow regulated markets such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, Ontario’s players are just a fraction of what you’ll find on the gambling sites of those US states. There’s really no way to know what things will look like in the Ontario market until Pokerstars ROW (rest-of-world) departs the market and Pokerstars Ontario replaces it, and that may not take place until mid-summer, as this report from our sister site Online Poker Report detailed.
Until then, we can probably continue to expect to see a couple of dozen players at a time, at the absolute most, on regulated Ontario poker sites. When Pokerstars comes aboard, only then will we really get a look at what this market can really do.