Regulated online poker has finally arrived in Canada, with Ontario leading the way. Starting on April 4, 2022, the first licensed poker sites went live in the province, marking the start of a new chapter in Canadian online poker.
Prior to these regulatory changes, players from Ontario were able to sign up and play with international sites.
These sites operated in somewhat of a grey area, as there wasn’t a law in place expressly forbidding them from catering to Canadians.
Things have changed a lot with April 4, and if you're wondering what these changes are and how to find the best legal poker sites in Ontario, you've come to the right place. On this page, you'll find answers to all of your questions.
Online Poker Regulation in Ontario
For a number of years, many international poker operators happily accepted players from Ontario and Canada, in general. The laws regulating iGaming weren’t clear enough, so there was nothing preventing the best online poker sites from accepting Canadian players.
In July of 2021, things started to change when the Ontario Government passed a new set of regulations, creating iGaming Ontario.
This is a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario tasked with licensing, regulating, and overseeing gaming operators wanting to offer their services in the province.
One of the major changes that new regulations brought was allowing private companies to apply for licenses. Prior to this, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation had a monopoly on all gambling activities in the province, including online poker in Ontario.
With this decision, Ontario opened doors for online poker operators to apply for their licenses prior to the official market launch date – April 4, 2022.
Several major stakeholders took the opportunity to apply, with brands like 888poker and BetMGM Poker receiving their licenses prior to the official market launch.
According to the current setup, all Ontario poker sites that have applied for a license can continue operating in the country. The ones that are still in the process of receiving a license are allowed to continue with their international platforms until their applications are fully accepted.
Ontario Online Poker as a Ring-fenced Market
While having access to licensed and fully regulated sites is always good for the players, there are certain stipulations in the new Ontario law that aren’t as favorable.
The biggest one has to do with the player pool segregation.
Namely, Ontario online poker sites are ring-fenced, meaning they can only accept players from Ontario.
So, even with a license, major operators cannot offer their international platforms where players could play against others from the rest of the world or even other Canadian provinces.
Ontario is the most populous Canadian province, with over 13.5 million people. However, this is a very small number compared to the global player pool.
This means that Ontario-licensed sites won’t be able to run huge tournament series like those many Canadian players have grown accustomed to over the years of playing on international platforms.
Player traffic on cash game tables might be shaky as well, especially during the early months as the new market takes roots.
Welcome Bonuses & Promotions in Ontario
Another interesting thing about the newly regulated Ontario poker market has to do with bonuses and promotions.
Poker operators are still allowed to offer bonuses, but there are very strict rules and guidelines for advertising these offers.
In a nutshell, poker rooms are not allowed to advertise their promotions via any third parties.
The only way you can obtain information about poker bonuses in Ontario is by visiting the website or the app of the operator you’re interested in.
In the same vein, Ontario poker rooms aren't allowed to send direct messages to players advertising their offers. Players have to first give explicit consent that they want to receive these messages.
All of this isn’t to say that Ontario poker players cannot take advantage of bonuses and promotions like those in other jurisdictions. After all, major poker sites have always used welcome bonuses as one of the main draws for new and existing customers.
But, due to these very particular rules from iGaming Ontario, we’re not allowed to talk about any particular promotional offers or compare them in any way.
Finding the Best Online Poker Sites in Ontario
If you’re looking to play on a safe, fully-licensed Ontario poker site, the first thing to look for is the licensing information.
All legal sites operating in the province will feature a seal from iGaming Ontario, the main regulatory body in the province.
To be completely safe, you can always cross-reference this info with the information listed on the iGaming Ontario site.
Another big thing to pay attention to is geolocation.
Licensed sites can only accept players who are physically present within the province borders for the purposes of playing for real money.
You can still access your account from outside Ontario, but you won’t be able to participate in any real money poker games.
So, if a site claims they're licensed in Ontario, but you can sign up and play from a different part of Canada or a different country entirely, you can be pretty certain their licensing info is false.
Keep in mind that Ontario poker rooms are ring-fenced.
If you’re an experienced player used to playing on international sites, you’ll likely notice lower traffic and smaller tournament guarantees.
The best Ontario poker rooms still have a lot to offer, though. Powered by some of the biggest names in the industry, they feature top-quality software, great poker mobile apps, and a solid variety of gaming options.
What Happens if I Already Have an Account?
Given the fact that many of the now-regulated Ontario sites have been operational in Canada for many years, it's quite possible you already have an account with some of these operators.
Although things are still somewhat fluid at the time of writing this, it seems that the general rule is that you don’t need to open a new account.
You should simply visit the new Ontario site, update the software, and log in with your existing details.
After that, a simple procedure will transfer your account to the Ontario platform, including any funds you may have in your cashier.
This is certainly good news for the players, making the transition process much smoother and simpler. You'll be able to continue with your old account on the new, fully licensed, and regulated platform.
Payment Options at Ontario Poker Rooms
One of the things all regulated Ontario poker rooms have in common is that all funds will be kept in Canadian Dollars (CAD).
This makes tracking your poker bankroll much simpler and helps avoid any conversion fees when depositing or withdrawing.
As for the supported payment options, Ontario players can expect a nice variety across the board, including the likes of:
- Bank transfers, etc.
All play on the sites also happens in CAD. So, all tournament buyins are expressed in the local currency, and cash game stakes are listed in Canadian dollars. There is never any need to convert the funds when playing with regulated Ontario poker sites.
Advantages of Regulated Ontario Online Poker Sites
Whether you’ve been playing on international sites for some time or are just entering the online poker world, it’s natural to wonder about the advantages of playing with regulated Ontario sites.
While many poker rooms that have been operating in Canada are owned by major companies, providing a high degree of safety for the player, there are many advantages to locally-licensed operators.
The biggest one is the protection of funds.
The iGaming regulator guarantees that all player deposits are protected, and their winnings will be paid in full.
This isn't the case with offshore operators, as they don't have to respond to any local authority.
In the event of a dispute, you'll always be able to turn to the regulator and ask for a resolution, which is a big plus for any player, but especially someone who might play at higher stakes or regularly have bigger amounts in their account.
In the same vein, operators must offer completely fair and random games. Thus, you can rest assured that poker sites aren’t rigged in any way.
Their software is regularly tested, and if everything isn't up to standards, they can face big fines or even lose their license.
Furthermore, iGaming Ontario requires all operators to fully protect sensitive player data.
This means that you can rest assured that your personal information won't get in the wrong hands.
Again, this isn't something that's guaranteed when playing on offshore sites, especially when it comes to smaller and lesser-known operators.
The ability to keep your funds and play in CAD is also very convenient.
While this isn’t a deal-breaker for most players, it’s always easier to keep track of things in your own currency.
Finally, Ontario online poker rooms have to adhere to very strict guidelines for responsible gambling.
As a player, you’ll have access to various useful tools to limit your deposits and restrict the time you spend playing. For those players who might have gambling problems, having access to these tools is really important.
It is not clear if additional regulations will follow for online casinos and online sports betting sites, but we will make sure to update this page and provide the most relevant and up-to-date information.