TORONTO – It’s one of the top events on the sports-betting calendar, outdrawing even the Super Bowl, but Ontario’s fledgling sports-gambling industry will have to wait to fully cash in on March Madness.
Single-game sports betting has been legal in Canada since last summer. But the industry won’t open up fully in Ontario until April 4, which is, ironically, when the NCAA men’s basketball champion will be crowned.
The women’s tournament, which begins Wednesday, stages its final April 3.
The men’s tournament began Tuesday with four games and it’s big business for the sports-betting industry south of the border.
The American Gaming Association estimates over 17 per cent of adults in the US — roughly 45 million people — plan to bet US$3.1 billion on the tournament. The Association’s research also stated Americans expect to place 76 per cent of their wagers outside of brackets, up from 55 per cent last year.
“It (opening sports betting in Ontario) is a complicated process,” said Dave Briggs, the managing editor of PlayOntario.com. “They’re trying to open this market up as much as possible and it (province’s approach) is being lauded as the right approach.
“But all that being said, the original plan was to hopefully be (open) before both the Super Bowl and March Madness … some money will be lost in the short-term.”
PlayOntario.com is a site that produces news, analysis and research related to online gaming and sports betting in Ontario.
It’s estimated the province lost out on $1.5 million in tax revenue by not having an open sports-betting market in time for the Super Bowl. The NCAA tournament is expected to attract three times the betting as the Super Bowl, which could mean a loss of some $4.5 million in tax revenue for Ontario.
Canadian sports bettors are currently wagering around $10 billion annually via illegal bookmakers, according to the Canadian Gaming Association. When Ontario fully opens sports betting, it’s expected to be one of North America’s most competitive markets.
However, bettors in Ontario will still be able to wager on NCAA basketball games.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s Proline+ and Proline at retail are featuring coverage with pre-game wagers, with Proline+ also providing in-game bets. Complete pre-game coverage of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) is also being offered in addition to in-game markets, when possible.
Proline will also provide complete pre-game coverage of the women’s NCAA tournament as well as in-play for the Sweet 16.
Ontario’s population is around 15 million people, which would make it the fifth-largest state in the US The province is expected to generate about $800 million in gross revenue this year.
By comparison, Pennsylvania, which has a 34 per cent tax rate on sports betting, accumulated just over US$500 million in legal gaming revenue last year.
The good news is, though, Proline will take in plenty of NCAA tournament wagers and, unlike outside operators, all of its profits go back to the province. And with the NCAA men’s championship game being held on the same day single-game sports betting opens fully in Ontario, the contest is expected to be a huge draw.
“I’d have to guess the final game is their biggest bet of all the games,” Briggs said. “But if you look at studies in the US that suggest the tournament itself will take in three times as much as the Super Bowl, it’s simply because there are so many games over a number of weeks.
“You have to remember the magic from a betting perspective with that tournament is you start with well over 60 teams and you have people from all over who have a different interest. As it goes on and their teams go out, some people do lose interest.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2022.
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