With the highly anticipated Canadian Gaming Summit approaching on June 18-20, SBC’s Affiliate Leaders had the privilege of catching up with JD McNamara, VP of Operations-Canada at Better Collective, for an exclusive chat ahead of his appearance as a speaker at the Summit. McNamara, who brings a wealth of insider knowledge and expertise to the table, delves into Better Collective’s strategic entry into the Canadian market and the pivotal role of the acquisition of Canada Sports Betting in solidifying their position. He also offers candid insights into the trials and triumphs of operating in Ontario, discussing everything from navigating regulatory hurdles to envisioning the future of iGaming in Canada.

Better Collective’s Journey in Canada: VP JD McNamara Provides Insider Insights

With the highly anticipated Canadian Gaming Summit approaching on June 18-20, SBC’s Affiliate Leaders had the privilege of catching up with JD McNamara, VP of Operations-Canada at Better Collective, for an exclusive chat ahead of his appearance as a speaker at the Summit.

McNamara, who brings a wealth of insider knowledge and expertise to the table, delves into Better Collective’s strategic entry into the Canadian market and the pivotal role of the acquisition of Canada Sports Betting in solidifying their position. He also offers candid insights into the trials and triumphs of operating in Ontario, discussing everything from navigating regulatory hurdles to envisioning the future of iGaming in Canada.

SBC: Can you share some insights into what prompted Better Collective’s interest in entering the Canadian market? How did Better Collective leverage the acquisition of Canada Sports Betting to gain market share in the country?

JD McNamara: The impetus for Better Collective’s entry into the Canadian market was the news in August 2021 that Bill C-2018 had passed through Ontario’s legislature, and sports betting and iGaming were legal. Once we heard the regulated market would open in April of 2022, we began developing our Canadian strategy and planning our Ontario entry in earnest, which culminated in our acquisition of Canada Sports Betting in March 2022. Because, as a global company active in iGaming markets all over the world, we wanted Better Collective to gain an immediate foothold in Canada.

SBC: Could you elaborate on the significance of Ontario’s launch of online sports betting in April 2022 for Better Collective’s strategic goals and expansion plans?

JDM: Our strategic goals and plans in Canada have continued to grow alongside the Ontario market in the two years since the April 4th, 2022 launch. We’re very encouraged by the growth from $4B total wagers and 18 operators in Q1 2022/2023 to $17B and 49 operators in the most recently reported data set out of Ontario. We’ll get to it a little bit later for the Playmaker Capital question, but we see The Nation Network as a real accelerator to BC’s Canadian business getting a larger share of the burgeoning market.

SBC: Can you speak to the competitive landscape in Canada’s affiliate industry and how Better Collective differentiates itself to capture the attention of Canadian bettors?

JDM: As you say, the landscape is extremely competitive in Canada’s affiliate industry. The way BC differentiates itself is our sheer global knowledge and experience in the iGaming sector. We have high quality tools, tips, and educational content that we offer daily to Canadian bettors. Since we acquired Canada Sports Betting, we’ve built a team of Canadians who are passionate about iGaming in Canada and that’s the team who works on Canada Sports Betting every day. So we’re not a foreign team working on a Canadian website, we’re a Canadian team working on a Canadian website that is for Canadian sports bettors – and we’re really proud of that fact. That’s been a key factor for BC’s success – having local talent that knows how to cater to local audiences.

SBC: Could you highlight some of the typical hurdles you’ve encountered operating in Ontario? And how do these challenges stack up against those in other markets, considering Better Collective’s expansive presence across various jurisdictions?

JDM: The most obvious challenge of operating in Ontario, for both affiliates and sportsbooks, has been talked about ad nauseam at this point. I’ve talked about it on multiple panels at the CGS: the restrictions in discussing bonuses and promotions in Ontario. We’re in a better place now as everyone in the market better understands the rules and regulations, but ultimately we’re not doing right by the customer.

By limiting what affiliates – highly regulated and transparent affiliates like Better Collective – can say about bonuses, we’re stripped of our ability to educate the market in terms of bonuses, where the best ones are, what pitfalls you have to avoid with bonus offers. We’re also talking about content on gambling websites, where it seems obvious you should be able to create content on these topics.

People aren’t arriving on Canada Sports Betting looking for shoes or a baby stroller. They’re arriving looking for information on sports betting and on bonuses. We see this in the search volume: people in Ontario are looking for bonus information and we unfortunately can’t give it to them, which I still thoroughly believe needs to change.

SBC: Congratulations on the acquisition of Playmaker Capital! What factors influenced Better Collective’s decision to pursue this acquisition, particularly in the context of your ongoing M&A strategy?

JDM: Thanks! Everyone at Better Collective Canada is very excited (and busy!) now that we have Playmaker Capital and more specifically, the Nation Network websites and shows in the fold.

There are two main factors related to Canada that influenced BC’s decision to pursue Playmaker Capital. One is the market. The growth of the Ontario market, as I referenced earlier, has been pretty staggering to the point that Ontario is now the sixth largest market in terms of GGR in the world, and it’s clear that the market has more room to grow.

And then secondly, Playmaker Capital itself has, via The Nation Network, made huge strides as a media player in the Canadian landscape alongside giants like Rogers and Bell. The Nation Network sites and media programming trajectory has been upwards over the last two years and it all perfectly aligns with Better Collective’s vision of becoming the leading sports media group in the world.

I’m personally energized by the great team at The Nation Network and am looking forward to our future collaboration to continue increasing BC’s footprint in Canada.

SBC: In your experience, what are some common challenges or pitfalls that operators and affiliates may encounter when forming partnerships, especially in new markets? How can these challenges be mitigated or overcome?

JDM: Some of the challenges that operators and affiliates face in working together in a brand new market is the fact that we’re learning and experiencing it through different perspectives. It’s also complicated by the Ontario restrictions on bonus content, and the fact that there’s also this difference in the Ontario market where the sportsbooks are responsible for regulating affiliates, which is quite different from most other jurisdictions in the world. So it was sort of a new normal.

It took the better part of six to eight months for affiliates and operators to really get comfortable in the Ontario market, but it’s been much better lately and we’ve really settled in with our best partners having regular touchpoints, and over-communicating across the board on expectations, requirements, and compliance, and we’re very comfortable forging ahead with our top partners in Ontario.

SBC: This year, our aim with the Canadian Gaming Summit has been to embrace a truly pan-Canadian approach, shedding light on the scene in various provinces. How do you envision the paths of different provinces unfolding?

JDM: In terms of other provinces regulating iGaming, it’s going to be interesting. I’m not sure I have the answer as to what the other markets will do in terms of regulations. Will they look like Ontario? Will they take a different approach? At this point, the industry is excited to have that next one come on board, whether it’s Alberta, British Columbia or a complete surprise. It’s tough to say right now, but I do think that having another province on board will continue that next wave of growth in the Canadian market as we get more eyes on the numbers and data from other provinces, not just Ontario.

SBC: With the Canadian Gaming Summit just around the corner, what do you hope to see come out of the event this year? Are there any specific networking opportunities or discussions you’re prioritizing, and could you outline your agenda for the summit?

JDM: Being a fully remote worker, one of my favourite things about the Canadian Gaming Summit is seeing other folks in the industry, of course, but also seeing my colleagues from Better Collective who are coming in from the USA and Europe. It’s always great to see them in person. In terms of specific networking discussions, I kind of like to let it happen organically. I don’t plan too many things ahead of time. Again, just looking to have some good conversations with awesome people, and see some old friends and colleagues.

____________________________

McNamara is scheduled to participate in the ‘Building Lasting Partnerships: Affiliates and Operators’ panel on June 20 from 12:45pm-1:30pm EDT. He will be joined by Cassie Brickman (CEO, Betting Hero), Vanda Silva (Chief Corporate Officer, Clever Advertising), and the panel will be moderated by Bryan Bennett (Consultant, NoCo Strategy).

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