Regulators in Alberta had hoped to have brick-and-mortar sportsbooks up for business by the end of 2022, but they look to be sliding behind schedule.
The Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission stated that, in December, according to Basketball Insiders Canada, it will permit two private operators to manage sports betting, with potential mobile expansions, at major professional sports stadiums across the province. However, the identities of these companies have not been revealed.
The original deadline for submitting proposals was January 31, but it was pushed out so that operators would have until February 14 to do so. Since the bidding period ended, there has been no word from regulators. AGLC’s manager of communications Karin Campbell told Sports Handle that the company was still planning to make an announcement this autumn.
Despite the frequently asked questions about sports betting, the regulators in Alberta made the intriguing choice to restrict private sports betting to only two companies at the outset. They cited the rapid rollout of private sports betting services as a significant benefit of the province’s relatively small market.
“By offering retail sports gambling up to two advocates now, AGLC is able to provide this product to sports fans in Alberta earlier in 2022,” AGLC President and CEO Kandice Machado stated at a press conference in December. It would take far longer to get this service to Albertans if AGLC allowed all suppliers access to the market.
Sports betting expansion in the province was planned for this year, but with the NFL season already begun and the NBA and NHL regular seasons slated to commence next month, it seems unlikely that this will happen. At a press conference in December, AGLC Acting Vp of Gaming and Cannabis Steve Lautischer said, “Just imagine the enthusiasm of the Labor Day Classic or even a Saturday night Battle of Alberta and walking over to a licensed sports gambling area to bet on who is going to score the next touchdown or goal.”
The Edmonton Elks and the Calgary Stampeders, the province’s two CFL clubs, recently competed in the Labor Day Classic, and on October 15 and 29, respectively, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames will meet in the first two episodes of the Battle of Alberta.
The AGLC conducted early discussions with the aforementioned four professional sports organizations in the province regarding the possibility of opening up sportsbooks in each of their various stadiums prior to the news conference in December. However, it is unlikely that new sports betting alternatives will be accessible before the end of the year because the winning vendor bids have not yet been announced.
Presently, the only authorized online sportsbook in Alberta is AGLC’s PlayAlberta. SPORTS SELECT, which is administered by the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, is also an alternative for local retail sports bettors.
What Is Taking So Long?
Several factors have been cited by experts in the industry as potential roadblocks to the rapid expansion of sports betting.
An industry insider told Sports Handle, “There’s a significant amount of interest, but there are a lot of difficulties with the RFP.” When it comes to retail sports betting and mobile betting, stakeholders have pressed the state for something different. In order to increase competition in the market, they had requested the freedom to create their own partnerships while leaving regulation to the government. The strategy has been met with considerable skepticism.
AGLC’s two-operator model is unprecedented in the country. Except for Ontario, every other province exclusively allows sports betting through state-run lotteries and casinos, with no immediate plans to open the market to private operators.
The April 4 debut of Ontario’s authorized iGaming and sports betting sector represents a complete embrace of private growth by the provincial government. Forty online gambling firms were active in the province as of Monday morning, and that number is projected to increase to roughly seventy even by the end of the year.
Specifically, AGLC stated that it desired a “turnkey” sports wagering system for up to 28 land-based casinos, with the understanding that sportsbook operations would be tailored to the specific requirements of each venue.
Interested operators have described the RFP as “difficult,” but they also see a substantial opportunity in the state. Research done in 2020 found that Canadians spend over $100 million yearly on offshore sports gambling sites and daily fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. With a population of over 4.5 million people, Alberta is the fourth most populated province in Canada. New private operators in Alberta face the same challenges as their counterparts in Ontario: the gray market and state-run gaming monopolies.
Five provincial gaming commissions, including the AGLC, have recently banded together to combat unregulated internet gambling. The group is opposing the “free-to-play” advertising strategies employed by illegal operators in all media during national broadcasts and asking the federal government to engage with provincial governments to safeguard the Canadian people from black-market enterprises.