Published: June 13, 2024

Alberta estimates 55% of its sports betting and iGaming market could account for unregulated operators

Government-owned online sports betting and casino gambling sites are estimated to have captured nearly half of the iGaming market in the Canadian province of Alberta. However, reports indicate that the other half may belong to technically illegal operators, who don't pay taxes and are not subject to local oversight. 

Alberta's Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) reported last week that, with the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, residents of the Western Canadian province were placing plenty of hockey wagers at Play Alberta, its only legal online sportsbook.

According to the AGLC, the government-owned gaming site has "grown significantly", and as per estimates from research firm H2 Gambling Capital, it now controls more than 45% of the province's overall iGaming industry. However, that means that approximately 55% of the Alberta sports betting and online gaming market may be in the hands of online sports betting and casino operators who are not regulated by the province and not authorized to do business there. 

"We would suggest that the remaining market that's there is the illegal market," said Dan Keene, Vice President of gaming at the AGLC, as reported by Covers. "We don't refer to it as the grey market. The only legal site in Alberta, of course, is Play Alberta."

Among the operators the AGLC considers illegal could be the "grey" market operator Stake, which generated some buzz recently when rapper Drake revealed he'd placed a $500,000 bet with Stake on the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup.

Nevertheless, according to the AGLC, Play Alberta has seen its online gambling business grow recently. The site now has more than 313,000 registered player accounts and took an estimated $5.36 billion in bets for the year that ended March 31. The platform also generated $179 million in net sales for the 2023-24 fiscal year, up more than $35 million from 2021-22. 

"That number contributes to the $1.5 billion in total gambling revenue that's sent to Alberta's General Revenue Fund and supports programs and services that Albertans rely on every day," according to a press release.

While illegal operators don't provide any tax revenue from their gambling businesses to Alberta's government, according to AGLC's estimates, they are the preferred option for many, if not most, bettors in the province, as well as strong competitors for online gambling revenue.

Alberta's government is currently contemplating a regulated iGaming market that may wind up closer to that of Ontario, where dozens of sites are authorized to offer sports betting and casino games to residents. That framework was the first of its kind for Canada when it launched in April 2022 and remains the only one of its kind. 

The Alberta government has taken steps that could put a similar structure in play in the Western province, including by passing a bill that may provide for more legal competition in iGaming. 

The Ontario government said residents were spending an estimated $700 million annually with "unregulated, grey market websites" before the province's new iGaming market launched, or about 70% of such spending. The province's attorney general said in April of this year that 86% of players are now using Ontario-licensed sites.

Keene said last week that the AGLC is "very supportive and stands ready to endorse and support" Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction Minister Dale Nally’s work to expand the legal online gambling market in the province. However, the AGLC is not standing pat until that work is complete, as it intends to keep bettering its iGaming product to win over customers in its backyard.

"We want to offer a product that's continually enhancing and continually improving," Keene said. "And we don't take anything for granted."


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