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'One of the world leaders': Province cashes in on sports betting

'It was happening anyways; there were just no safeguards for people. The responsible gaming component is just a really important piece,' said Attorney General Doug Downey
This is the set-up in the office of Mitch Dobney, the Barrie man who co-owns MT Trading.

The province’s sports-betting industry is showing signs of becoming profitable, but that is hard to quantify as it's new and there is nothing to compare it to before it became legal.

Single-game sports betting became legal in Canada in 2021, but the industry really opened up in Ontario on April 4 of this year.

It was reported by PointsBet that just 50 seconds into the province’s opening, the first big wager was a $500 two-leg parlay of North Carolina over Kansas in the NCAA men’s basketball final and the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Tampa Bay Lightning, both on April 4.

Attorney General Doug Downey said in terms of iGaming, which he said “sports betting was a major part of,” there was a black market going on that was unregulated.

“There were no safeguards, no responsible gaming component to it at all,” said Downey. “A lot of the operators wanted it to be regulated so they could have a good industry that protects people while they game.”

Sports betting in Ontario became a topic about four years ago, said Downey, noting he started with the file in 2018 when he was the parliamentary assistant to finance.

When he became attorney general and oversaw the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, he pushed on with it.

When asked where the province looked to for inspiration on the new model, Downey said an international expert was hired to help guide the process.

“We looked at European models. We looked throughout the United States. There was nothing in Canada to draw from,” he said. “We’re now one of the world leaders in the way that we’ve done this.”

As for financial results from the venture, Downey said they were, obviously, zero because of it being a black market.

Now, they are in the millions.

“The Q2 results thus far are $6.04 billion in total cash wagers, which turns into $267 million in gaming revenue for the province. There are 24 live operators, 42 iGaming websites with 628,000 active player accounts,” said Downey. “It is certainly a sizable industry.”

Some people are against the province being involved in the world of sports betting, but Downey disagrees.

“It was happening anyways; there were just no safeguards for people,” he said. “The responsible gaming component is just a really important piece.”

Mitch Dobney is one person in Ontario who ran with the legalization and has made a business out of it.

Dobney and a West Coast partner own MT Trading, a company that currently only bets the money of the two owners but one day hopes to expand to a brick-and-mortar location with staff, helping others bet.

Dobney said the industry being open is best for everyone for many reasons.

“Before, it was just under the table. If people can still benefit financially but responsibly, that’s a good thing for bettors,” said Dobney. “If the province is able to do good things with the money, that’s an even bigger win.”