Ontario Online Poker

Online poker sites are legal in Ontario. BetMGM Poker and 888poker debuted on April 4. Party Poker went live on April 12. More legal poker apps are expected to follow including WSOP.

The launch sets Ontario, and its nearly 15 million residents, as the single largest administrative region in North America with legal online poker. Although not all people in the province will play, Ontario likely has the best future for online poker of any state or province on the continent.

However, for the time being, Ontarians will have to be content to play other Ontarians only. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which regulates the industry, has not permitted sites to share player pools with other provinces or with sites outside of Canada. All online poker will occur inside provincial borders in the early going. If anything changes, you’ll find the latest news and updates here, so read on for more information about online poker in Ontario.

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Is online poker legal in Ontario?

Yes. Online poker is legal in the province by virtue of the Gaming Act of 1992, along with other online gambling. On April 4, BetMGM and 888 poker sites arrived in Ontario, the first of several legal apps expected in the province.

Before April 2022, Ontarians were limited by the terms of the Criminal Code to playing online poker through the provincial government. Additionally, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has not seen fit to introduce an online poker site to the province. The new market changes things. Several online poker sites are inbound to the province, including WSOP.com.

Currently, Ontario online poker sites are only allowed to offer player pools within the province. Though work has started to expand the pools beyond Ontario’s borders, for now that limits the pot for players to just those playing within the province’s borders.

Comparing online poker sites in Ontario

The only legal poker sites available for play in Ontario are BetMGM Poker, 888poker and Party Poker. However, more sites are anticipated in the coming weeks and months. Below we provide details and compare features for the best poker apps in Ontario.

BetMGM Poker

  • Launch date: April 4
  • Best feature: Simple, straightforward, and easy-to-navigate design.
  • Read review: BetMGM Poker

BetMGM Poker is a joint venture between MGM Resorts and gambling company Entain. Entain, in turn, also owns top online poker site partypoker, which could make an entrance, too. BetMGM is a well-known commodity in the US with a platform that’s easy to use and easy to navigate. The tournaments and cash games are good if not as plentiful as PokerStars, but the overall simplicity of the app works in its favor.

Partypoker

  • Launch date: April 12
  • Best feature: SNG daily leaderboards
  • Read review: Partypoker

Partypoker features a game menu that includes Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo and a few stud tables. You can also find tournaments, SNGs and and MTTs.

888poker

  • Launch date: April 4
  • Best feature: Unique tournaments and games
  • Read review: 888poker

For all intents and purposes, 888 is already a well-known commodity in Ontario. The app launched in the legal market in April 2022 with a casino and sportsbook app alongside it. The app itself utilizes a platform that is classic and easy to navigate. Cash games, tournaments and the like are available here including the new Blast Sit & Go, the popular Texas Hold’em and Snap fast-fold poker.

PokerStars

  • Launch date: Unknown
  • Best feature: Variety of games and usability of software
  • Read review: PokerStars

PokerStars is one of the largest poker sites in the world and is no stranger to most Ontarians. Even though the Ontario version will be specific to the province only, it will offer cash games, tournaments, sit and go’s and jackpot sit and go’s. The site is also well-known for its variety of games, including some of its own designs. The site currently operates in the grey market but has plans to join the legal market.

WSOP/GGPoker

  • Launch date: Unknown
  • Best feature: Chance to play in WSOP online bracelet events.
  • Read review: WSOP.com

WSOP in Ontario uses the GGPoker platform, rather than its typical partner, 888. GGPoker has already secured approval to operate in the province, so now it’s just a waiting game. The World Series of Poker is a well-known brand and the app should come equipped with a bevy of tournaments and games and (hopefully) a selection of WSOP bracelet events.

Formats of online poker games

Online poker games come in many formats. Each format has its own set of rules. Here are the main online poker formats you will find in Ontario:

  • Cash games — You can join and leave these games at any time. Sites usually organize them by blind or ante amounts, as well as setting buy-in amounts. Cash games typically come with either six or nine “seats” at each table, although tables with fewer seats are possible from time to time. These are also called ring games.
  • Tournaments — You pay a prescribed amount to enter and receive a set number of tournament chips. You cannot cash out or leave until all of your chips are gone. A small percentage of players divides the pool of buy-ins based on finishing position. Tournaments begin at preset times and only allow registration for a certain period.
  • Sit and go’s — Sit and go’s are smaller tournaments that begin after a certain number of players sign up to play. There is no set timeframe for an SNG to begin, but you’ll know the prize amount beforehand because of the limitation on the number of players. Sit and go’s are available in single-table and multi-table variants and are typically shorter events than standard tournaments.
  • Jackpot sit and go’s — Jackpot sit and go’s are small SNGs that proceed quickly and award randomly generated prizes in a winner-take-all match. Usually, a jackpot SNG begins after three players sign up. Blind levels are no more than a few minutes each, and there is no prize for second or third place. The prize is a random multiple of the buy-in amount. While the multiple is usually no more than two times the buy-in, the random number generator will offer some of these tournaments with multiples as high as 2000x, albeit rarely. In other words, a $1 buy-in could yield as much as $2,000.
  • Fast-fold games — Fast-fold games are cash games that allow players to see far more hands than they’d see on a typical table. Players receive their hands as usual, but immediately after they fold or win the hand, they move to a new table and hand. This can allow you to move through the seemingly endless stream of unplayable hands much more quickly and avoid the dreaded condition of being “card dead.”

Online poker game modifiers

If you’re familiar with online poker already, this section is not for you. However, if you’ve never played before, here are some of the game terms that you might come across at a poker site — the “lingo,” if you will:

  • Six-max — The table(s) in this game seat a maximum of six players, rather than the standard nine.
  • Heads-up — The table(s) in this game seat a maximum of two players. This term also applies to when only two players remain in a hand or at the end of a tournament.
  • Uncapped — There are no limits on your buy-in.
  • Rebuy — It is possible to buy into a tournament multiple times if you bust out. The rebuy period typically lasts through several blind levels.
  • Add-on — At the end of the rebuy/late registration period, players have the option of paying an extra fee to receive additional tournament chips.
  • Satellite — A smaller buy-in tournament that awards entries into a larger tournament instead of cash prizes.
  • Bounty/progressive bounty — In a typical bounty tournament, you receive a fee for each player whom you eliminate. In a progressive bounty tournament, each bounty you collect increases the value of the bounty on you.
  • Shootout — A shootout is a format where you must “win” your individual table to move onto the next phase of the tournament. After you proceed past a certain number of tables, you become eligible for prizes.
  • Freezeout — There is no possibility of rebuying into the tournament. There may even be no late registration after the tournament begins.
  • No-limit — There are no maximum bets beyond the size of the player’s stack. You may go all in at any point, even on the first round of betting.
  • Limit — Usually, there are four rounds of betting, and the betting limit on the first two rounds will be half the amount of the second two rounds.
  • Pot-limit — The maximum bet size is the current amount of money in the pot.

Game selection

While live poker rooms may only have the table space, dealers and number of players for a single game, online sites can have several games on standby, ready for players, at most times.

The most popular poker game in the world is unquestionably no limit Texas Hold’em. Each player receives two cards, and you attempt to make the best five-card hand from the two you hold and five community cards. With four betting rounds and no limit on the amount a player can wager in any round, fortunes can shift in an instant.

The second most popular game after hold’em is likely pot limit Omaha. The game uses the same five community cards as hold’em but deals each player four cards, instead of two. Players must use exactly two of the cards in their hand at all times, but the decision about which two to use can change as a hand progresses. Omaha is typically a pot-limit game because the added cards create more uncertainty, more risk and much larger pots than a typical hold’em game.

Every legal online poker site in Ontario will offer no-limit Texas Hold’em. We can almost say the same thing about PLO, but it’s possible that a smaller site might not have Omaha games available. Here are some other games that you may find online:

  • Limit hold’em — Hold’em with defined bet amounts on each round.
  • Omaha 8 or Better (aka Omaha Hi-Lo) — Highest hand and lowest hand split the pot, and both high and low are possible for the same player.
  • Seven card stud — Each player receives as many as seven cards, with three hidden and four face-up for all to see. You attempt to make the best five-card hand from the seven. May also be available as a hi-lo variant.
  • Razz — Seven card stud game where players attempt to assemble the lowest five-card hand from their seven. Flushes and straights don’t count, aces are low and pairs are to be avoided.
  • Badugi — A draw game with razz hand values and only four cards to a hand rather than five.
  • Pineapple — Hold’em-style game, but players receive three cards and must discard one. The discard occurs before the flop in regular Pineapple and after the flop in Crazy Pineapple.
  • Short deck/six plus poker — A variant of hold’em with no cards lower than six in the deck. As a result, winning hands are often higher than a typical hold’em game.
  • Five card draw — Classic poker game now mostly relegated to video poker machines, but still available at some of the larger sites.

It’s important to understand that the availability of these games decreases as you go down the list. Only the largest sites might have the option to play games like Razz and Badugi, for instance. Most of the time, you’ll find NLHE, PLO and maybe one other game.

Differences between online poker and live poker

Online poker games have the same rules as their live counterparts. Live poker, however, engages all five senses. The tactile experience of tossing chips into the pot is distinct. Conversing with other players, reading their expressions and hearing the clacking of chips is not an experience that online sites can duplicate. Even the ability to order food and drinks at the table is not something an online site can manage.

However, aesthetics aside, there are some key differences between online and live poker that can directly affect your outlook for success on the virtual felt. There are few mistakes bigger than approaching online games with the same mindset as you do live ones.

The first thing to note is that online poker games are much faster than live ones. On average, a live poker game deals around 30 hands per hour. By contrast, online poker sites can deal with more than 100 hands per hour under optimal conditions. Whereas live poker only has time clocks in select tournaments, every online game allows a maximum amount of time for players to make each decision. If you are used to taking your time, there may be a bit of a learning curve.

Furthermore, the increased number of hands means that every type of occurrence, no matter how unlikely, happens more often online than it does live — at least, in terms of the time passing between occurrences. Both hot streaks and cold streaks will seem to be more common. Most importantly, bad beats can seem far more common online, and it has nothing to do with any kind of shenanigans on the part of the site. They are happening at the same rate they always do, but you are playing more hands.

Additionally, because of the increased number of hands, the average player at a particular level in live poker is usually not as adept as a corresponding online player. For that reason, it’s a good idea to start out at the lowest buy-in level that a site offers and work your way up gradually.

Speaking of buy-in levels, online poker lets you play for much less than a live poker room. Most poker rooms in the real world do not offer games with blinds less than $1, and buying in for anything under $100 is usually not possible. However, online games are available for less than $5 per buy-in and with blind levels no higher than a few nickels.

Finally, online games do not have some of the unspoken rules of etiquette that many live poker games do. There is no shame in buying in for the absolute minimum amount at the table. There is nothing wrong with leaving a table immediately after a big win to maximize your profits (aka “ratholing”). In fact, there is nothing wrong with playing a hand or two and logging off. Poker sessions in seconds are impossible live, but they are more than welcome online. In fact, that convenience is one of the main advantages online poker has over the live version.

Online poker bonuses

Another major plus for online players is the presence of bonus offers. Because it’s easy to change from one poker site to the next, the sites compete for your attention via promos. Here are a few types of bonuses that you are likely to encounter when online poker launches in Ontario:

  • No deposit bonuses — The site puts a few dollars in your account when you sign up. You cannot withdraw this money without playing a certain number of hands. The amount will never be very much, but it will allow you to try out the site essentially for free.
  • Deposit bonuses — The site matches a portion of your deposit with extra bonus funds. The portion can be as high as 100%, and you can sometimes receive the match for deposits ranging into the thousands. Although these can be for both new players and existing ones, the offers for new players are almost always more generous.
  • Freerolls — Receive a free ticket for a special tournament. This tournament may or may not be open to the general public and will offer a predetermined prize pool.
  • Loyalty programs — You accrue points for every dollar of rake that the site collects from games you play. The higher limit you play, the faster the points accrue. Points can qualify you for extra tournament tickets, cash bonuses and other perks. Some loyalty programs also have special stores that only take points as their currency, where you can purchase additional cash credits, tournament entries or site-branded merchandise.
  • Leaderboards — Alongside loyalty programs, sites may also track your rake contributions for placement on a leaderboard. Leaderboards tend to run from the beginning of the month until the end and rank players based upon how much they are playing and paying into the site. The top players at the end of the period receive prizes.

Since online casinos and sportsbooks are coming to Ontario before or at the same time as online poker, be on the lookout for integrated bonuses. For instance, there may be some bonuses on poker sites that transfer across to other gambling activities.

How to start playing online poker in Ontario

Generally speaking, the steps to start playing are going to be similar from site to site:

  • Download and install the poker client or app.
  • Register for an account.
  • Deposit into your new account.
  • Use the tabs in the lobby to find your first game.

Downloading and installing the app is mostly the same procedure as it is for any other type of app. If you’re using a computer, you’ll most likely need to download the poker client from the poker site itself. The installation process should be no different from any other program.

Once you’ve installed the software, open the app/client and click the registration button. Be prepared to submit your personal information, such as your name, email, home address, phone number and other identifiers. If the site uses a bonus code, enter it in the appropriate field here. Then, submit your information to create your account.

If you’ve received any free credits for signing up, you may use those to play. However, you are probably going to have to make a deposit at some point. Head to the cashier and find the option that works best for you. Typical deposit options include credit cards, debit cards, electronic wallets like PayPal, electronic checks and online banking.

Once you’ve made your deposit, you’re ready to play. Return to the site’s lobby and use the tabs at the top to find the game you want to play. Many sites will have filters you can use to sort through the options, such as the maximum number of players at the table and the amount of the blinds.

Live poker in Ontario

As mentioned above, live poker has some benefits. Even if you enjoy the options that online poker rooms provide, there are plenty of reasons that you might want to mix in some live play. Many retail establishments — including casinos — have undergone pandemic-related disruptions in the past couple of years. If you’re planning to visit one of these poker rooms, it’s best to call ahead to see what’s available and make sure it will be open:

  • Caesars Windsor — 14 tables with Texas Hold’em, Omaha and seven-card stud. Temporarily closed as of March 2022.
  • Casino Niagara — 18-table room reopening in April 2022.
  • Casino Rama — Six tables of Texas Hold’em.
  • Elements Casino Brantford — 10-table room with both limit and no-limit games.
  • Great Blue Heron — Multiple tables with Texas Hold’em and Omaha options.
  • Rideau Carleton Casino — Five-table room with limit and no-limit hold’em. Temporarily closed as of March 2022.
  • Starlight Casino Point Edward — Multiple tables mixed together with other table games.

FAQ

Can I play online poker in Ontario?

Yes. Online poker has been legal to play through the provincial government for many years. You can play at BetMGM Poker or 888poker legally in the province, but more sites are anticipated soon.

What poker sites are coming to Ontario?

Most of the big name sites, including WSOP, PokerStars and BetMGM, have intentions to debut in Ontario, if they haven’t already done so. While exact launch dates aren’t yet clear for some, the companies’ public statements have indicated that Ontario is part of their plans.

Do I have to live in Ontario to play?

No. It is not necessary to be an Ontario resident to play online poker in Ontario. In fact, it is not even necessary to be a Canadian citizen. The only requirements are that you are of the proper age and you are within provincial borders when you attempt to play.

How old do I have to be to play online poker in the province?

Nineteen. Although some provinces and gambling activities accept 18-year-olds, you must be 19 or older to gamble online in Ontario.

How will the sites know if I’m inside Ontario?

Each site will employ geolocation software through its app and/or client. This software will use your device’s onboard GPS or its own program to determine your location. Without verifying that you are inside Ontario, you will be unable to play at any of the online poker sites in the province.

Can I play against players in other provinces or around the world?

Not yet, but it’s possible sometime in the future. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has declined to allow online poker sites within the province to share their player pools across provincial lines or beyond the borders of Canada. However, regulators have considered the idea over the past few months and could conceivably revisit the issue after some time passes.

Can I still play on sites based outside of Canada?

Yes, but we do not recommend you do so. Ontario authorities have taken a somewhat cooperative approach to their relationships with online gambling sites previously operating in the grey market. The hope is that many of these sites will come into the fold and become white market options, with regulatory approval from the government. Not all will do so, but that’s the hope of the government’s approach.

We recommend that you only use sites approved to offer service in Ontario by the provincial government. You take increased risks by playing at unregulated sites. Such sites are not bound to comply with Canadian law or business standards. If something went wrong with your account or information, you would have few options. There is also the possibility that the government may crack down on these sites now that people in the province will have access to legal options.