An Oakville, Ont.-native who helped Rogers Communications (RCI-B.TO) land the right to broadcast NHL games across Canada in a blockbuster $5.2 billion deal is set to lead an Australian online bookmaker's foray into the hotly-anticipated Canadian sports betting market.
Scott Vanderwel, now chief executive officer of the new Canadian arm of PointsBet Holdings (PBH.AX), says he ran the company's strategy office and worked closely with Rogers Media president Keith Pelley on the 2013 deal during his tenure at the media and telecom giant.
In a major blow to rival Bell-owned sports broadcaster TSN and CBC Sports, Rogers seized control of the NHL broadcast rights, and the coveted "Hockey Night in Canada" brand, through the 2025-26 season.
"It repositioned Rogers in hockey in a way that really upped our game," Vanderwel told Yahoo Finance Canada in an interview. "We took the leadership position from TSN. Before that deal, Sportsnet [a Rogers-owned channel] was a distant second."
Industry insiders and analysts expect fierce competition and high-stakes dealmaking will be fixtures of Canada's sports betting market, with single-event wagering now legal in Canada, and Ontario set to open its market to privately-owned sportsbooks by year's end.
Vanderwel, PointsBet's third hire in Canada, is betting his team's insider knowledge of Canadian sports and gaming will be the winning advantage for the Aussie-headquartered company. PointsBet Canada has also recruited Canadian gaming and fantasy sports veteran Nic Sulsky, and Dale Fallon, a digital product director for Rogers' Sportsnet brand. Fallon was the first employee hired by Score Media and Gaming (SCR.TO)(SCR) to focus on its popular sports news and data mobile app, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Macquarie analyst Chad Beynon predicted Canadian sportsbooks like theScore will face an audience growth "arms race" against experienced foreign rivals in Ontario when he spoke to Yahoo Finance Canada in July about how the market would take shape.
Canada's most populous province is the only region currently promising a competitive internet gaming market where private-sector operators can offer action in exchange for giving the government a cut of their revenue. The province expects to launch its igaming marketplace fully in December, in what is expected to be a bellwether for other regions considering opening up to private competition.
Foreign-owned sportsbooks like DraftKings (DKNG) talked up expectations for the Ontario market as Bill C-218, federal legislation granting provinces the right to regulate single-sports betting, worked its way through Canada's parliamentary system in recent months. The Boston-based company, and rival FanDuel, have established themselves as household names in U.S. states that have embraced sports betting, following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized the pasttime.
Meanwhile, Toronto-based theScore has seen limited success with its American sports betting app, which is currently available in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, and New Jersey. Chief executive officer John Levy has vowed to defend his "home turf" in Canada, where the company has one of the most popular mobile apps for sports news and data.
In August, U.S. gambling giant Penn National Gaming (PENN) announced a deal to acquire theScore for about US$2 billion in cash and stock, building upon the 4.5 per cent equity stake in the company it purchased in 2019.
I’d put our product against theirs any dayScott Vanderwel, CEO of PointsBet Canada, on rival Score Media and Gaming
"TheScore is a great media company. It's learning to be a great sports betting company. PointsBet is a great sports betting company. So I'd put our product against theirs any day," said Vanderwel.
"Like most markets, there will be five to eight players that have brand recognition and unaided awareness in this category. We intend to be one of them," he added.
Rogers, where Vanderwel held senior digital and corporate strategy roles for more than nine years, has been a vocal supporter of single-sports betting in Canada. In addition to broadcasting sports news, hockey games and other events on its Sportsnet network, the company owns Toronto's major league baseball team, and a 37.5 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Argonauts football team.
Asked if his appointment as PointsBet Canada CEO signalled potential dealings between the Australian gambling firm and the Canadian telecom and media heavyweight, Vanderwel says he maintains a "great relationship with Rogers professionally," but noted it "would be speculation to think about such a thing."
"Obviously Rogers and Bell are core media assets, an important component to anybody thinking about this space," he said. "I believe there are a number of assets in this category where there is an opportunity to create a relationship and engage the Canadian fans."
Vanderwel says he was not directly involved in Roger's 2012 acquisition of theScore's television assets for roughly $167 million, but was aware of the deal and its details through his role at Rogers at the time.
Unknown rules of play
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) started allowing prospective igaming operators and suppliers to prepare their online applications for registration on Sept. 13. The process includes a $100,000 regulatory fee per gaming website. Applicants can opt for a one or two-year term.
While the AGCO will oversee igaming regulations, its iGaming Ontario subsidiary will "conduct and manage" the market for private operators after the launch, expected in December.
Vanderwel says he has pressing questions, including how the grey market sportsbooks that attract billions in Canadian betting action could apply for a licence and compete with PointsBet in Ontario, while operating outside the law in other jurisdictions.
"How can you be a legal operator in Ontario, and continue to operate grey market operations in other provinces? That feels a little counterintuitive," he said. "I'd like to better understand the regulatory perspective as it relates to that."
Taxes are another source of uncertainty for the industry. Federal and Ontario lawmakers have touted the legalization of new forms of sports gambling as a significant money-maker for provincial coffers. However, Ontario has yet to spell out the full details of its plan to tax the gaming revenue of private sportsbooks.
"The range the industry has been talking about is in the 20 per cent range. There is a little bit of nuance around what may or may not be included in that 20 per cent," Vanderwel said.
"The Canadian market, how attractive it is over the long-term, is going to be a function of how this regulatory framework plays out."
Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.