William Hill's move obtaining an Ontario license could be a boon for 888

Customers of William Hill in Ontario, Canada are being forced to close their accounts, but William Hill will be back, albeit under the 888 Holdings banner.

William Hill customers in Ontario frustrated . . . for now

Ontario customers are used to seeing changes to their wagering options since the province went live on April 4th. DraftKings and FanDuel dropped their daily fantasy sports offerings in order to offer sports betting and casinos; Bet365 and 888 customers saw horse racing removed as a betting option on their websites; and this week Ontario customers found out they will no longer be able to access their accounts at Williamhill.com as of September nor be able to deposit or place bets as of yesterday.

William Hill was one of the first websites to takes bets in Canada and in the wake of a sale of the full William Hill brand to Ceasars and subsequent sale of its non-U.S. operations to 888 Holdings, William Hill customers were told that the company will be stopping access to the williamhill.com site in Ontario. But Ontario players should likely be able to bet again at William Hill as a skin of 888.

Last week Ontario residents received the following email from William Hill.

We're contacting you with some important updates regarding your William Hill account.   
We will soon be terminating our William Hill offerings to players in Ontario and closing your account as of 2022-09-07.

We will begin carrying out the following steps from August 15th:
1) Stopping all bets
2) Stopping all deposits
3) Settling all open bets and outstanding bonuses
(Bet stakes will be returned to players. Any Bonus Money, Free Bets or Free Spins will be forfeited.)
4) Stopping all further gameplay  

What we ask you to do:  

We also ask you to begin withdrawing your funds from your existing account as soon as possible, before 2022-09-07. Please login to your account today to withdraw your funds. If you require assistance with withdrawing your funds, you can contact our HELP Centre HERE.
Why we’re doing this?

Our offering in Ontario will be suspended in order to provide a new customer experience for Ontario residents in the near future.

Affiliates received a similar email to let them know that they will no longer be able to receive affiliate fees or advertise as of August 15th.

The williahmill.com/ca website makes it clear that the company applied for a license, and it appears they received one that will take effect sometime in September.

Coming to Ontario: Subject to successful AGCO registration and execution of an Operating Agreement with iGaming Ontario

Many Ontario bettors seem frustrated with this news, not only because it was sprung on them with little warning, but also because the lack of withdrawal methods on williamhill.com leaves them in a position where withdrawing may not be worth it.William Hill Canada After William Hill stopped its withdrawal option via Instadebit about four years ago following a series of glitches which left numerous customers and both William Hill and Instadebit frustrated, the only withdrawal method available to Canadians is bank transfer. The cost to most Ontario residents is a $15 fee charged by William Hill's bank in England for processing the transfer and $17 for receiving the transfer from the client bank. Consequently the $32 in fees often eats up much of the funds, especially if a player's balance is not substantial. So, if a player has, say, $50 in their account, the withdrawal is hardly worth the effort.

More questions 

The move also leaves some unanswered questions from a business standpoint. In 2020 William Hill agreed to a £2.9 billion takeover by Caesars Entertainment. Caesars, at the time, indicated their plan for William Hill was to operate the betting kiosks that were open in casinos, racetracks and other facilities throughout the United States and that any Internet sportsbooks would be run under the BetCaesars brand. They also planned to sell off the non-U.S. facing operations to a different buyer.

In April 2020, Caesars completed the sale of their non-U.S. businesses to 888 Holdings for $3 billion USD, so in the end, the takeover of William Hill cost Caesars very little. What was confusing to many, however, was whether the non-U.S. operations included Canada as well, and not even William Hill employees seemed to know for some time. In April, when Ontario opened up its online sports betting market, I contacted a customer support agent on chat to ask if williamhill.com was still available to players in Ontario and the agent’s reply was "for now, but in the future you will need to access William Hill at BetCaesars.com (Caesars’ start date was delayed in Ontario)."

Caesars William HillWhen I inquired again about a month later, after BetCaesars launched, I was told by a different customer service rep that the first agent was mistaken and that WilliamHill.com is still available to Ontario residents, although they didn’t know for how long or what the future plans were. What made it more confusing was that accessing BetCaesars in Ontario took customers to the website williamhill.us, which had one player email me to ask "Can you find out if William Hill is still William Hill or is it BetCaesars? I live in London, Ontario and I am getting mixed messages.  I’m so confused." But the fact that Williamhill.com stayed open to Ontario residents until now and that it is going to run under an Ontario iGaming license seems to answer that question. Non-U.S. assets indeed included Canada. Whether Caesars would have included Canada in the sale if they knew the biggest province was going to create an open market and williamhill.com was going to run in the province as a competitor to BetCaesars is unsure, especially since Caesars still owns and runs Casino Windsor in Ontario.  

When williamhill.com/ca, or more likely williamhill.ca, begins operations, it will give 888 two skins in Ontario. Currently only Leo Vegas has two skins with Leo Vegas and Royal Panda, but with MGM having bought Leo Vegas’ Internet business in May for $607 million, that actually gives MGM three skins, with those two companies along with BetMGM.

Offering two skins could be a brilliant move for 888

By all accounts 888 has not been living up to its expectations in Ontario, possibly because it never had a huge customer base from the province to begin with, but William Hill is very well known and has a huge Canadian customer base. 888 William Hill Ontario CanadaIn fact, William Hill was one of the first companies to advertise its products in Canada when they launched their Internet site. The original ads claimed that William Hill, as the bookmaker to the Queen, were seeking “elite” players to join their company. The ads, however, backfired since many players considered the ads to be snobby and later ads were far less ostentatious, clearly indicating that anyone could sign up with William Hill whether they were elite or a commoner. Over the years William Hill became the second largest sportsbook company in Canada behind only Bet365.

William Hill, along with Pinnacle, Sportingbet and some other sites have all been operating their non-Ontario websites pending approval by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) under an agreement that allowed them to operate as is until they get approval. Not wanting to create financial hardship, the AGCO told sites they could continue to operate their current sites in Ontario for up to six months, but would have to stop their operations and get an Ontario license to continue. And with the six month grace period soon ending it appears William Hill has decided to make the jump now. This will be both a blessing and curse to many Ontario residents.

One of William Hill's most popular products, even in Ontario, was horse racing, but Ontario law forbids any gambling company except the horse racing industry from offering horse racing in any form (an agreement made with Agriculture Canada). But with an Ontario license, William Hill will now be able to offer more deposit and withdrawal options including e-transfer, credit cards, PayPal and Instadebit, which will have many players pleased as they no longer will be forced to withdraw by bank transfer only.

The question that remains is whether 888 will cut back on some of the very popular promotions that William Hill currently has such as Scratch of the Day, where players can scratch a card and get free bets for simply scratching a card, and more importantly whether players can request their own odds on Twitter and have some person at William Hill create those odds for them under the hashtag and category #YourOdds. William Hill also offers very attractive odds for golf, like placing with a top 8 finish in a PGA Tour event paying 1/5 the win odds. These are very popular offerings, so 888 will most likely continue with them, but the company must also not make any business decision that will cannibalize their own business. The key is to make it appear that both the 888 and William Hill sites have great offerings of their own, independent from the other.  

Though it may be a bit confusing and frustrating now, Ontario residents will soon have a new licensed, legal offering to play at and along with it a very attractive sign-up bonus for creating an account.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

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