The 14-ounce filet mignon at Toronto’s Harbour 60 restaurant will cost you $128, before tax and tip. If you add a $30 plate of lobster mashed potatoes to start, that would get you to around what the average player in Ontario spends in a month with the province’s online sports betting sites and internet casinos.
But it was at Harbour 60, the former home of Toronto’s harbour commission and now its “premier steakhouse,” that Fitzdares recently decided to make its grand entrance into the Ontario sports betting market.
Indeed, as Fitzdares CEO William Woodhams told Covers during lunch earlier this month, the company caters to a certain kind of bettor. It also plans on providing its more bespoke type of wagering culture and services in Ontario, where it launched earlier this month with internet-based sports betting and casino gaming after more than a century of taking action in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Ontario is now home to around 30 gaming websites offering legal sports betting in the province, Canada’s most populous. But Fitzdares, which bills itself as “the world’s finest bookmaker,” has a different approach it hopes will carve out a decent chunk of the market for itself.
“I think the sector as a whole has to realize that there needs to be a premium element,” Woodhams told Covers over wine and prime steak tartare. “It can’t be marketed like Bud Light. It’s gambling, and gambling is so much fun. I don’t think it should be more than you can afford. It shouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of pounds. It should just be fun. It’s another way of supporting your team or supporting your view. And, in a sense, it’s a luxury pastime.”
The customer-service comeback
The kind of wagering environment Fitzdares hopes to cultivate in Ontario could ultimately be similar to the one it has established in the U.K. There, the company runs the Fitzdares Club, the membership application for which includes titles such as “Sir,” “Lord,” and “The Rt. Hon.” The club boasts multiple locations where bettors can sit down for a plate of lamb scrumpets with aioli (or another dish) and watch and wager on a football match or horse race.
Fitzdares also takes bets in the U.K. through its app, over the phone, and via text, live chat, and email. In short, humans are standing at the ready to help bettors get down their wagers and troubleshoot any issues.
“Customer service is having a comeback,” Woodhams said. “You want to walk into a shoe shop and them to have your size,”
The starting point for Fitzdares in Ontario is its website and app, as in-person event wagering is exclusive to the province’s casinos and lottery retailers. Furthermore, certain Canadian legalities mean that, in Ontario, Fitzdares cannot yet take bets on horse racing, one of its staples.
But the company is finding ways to do business in a very Fitzdares fashion. That began with a Super Bowl party at Harbour 60 in downtown Toronto, with a select group of invitees the bookmaker contacted using “friends” in the area. Bettors could pick at oysters and sip champagne as the Kansas City Chiefs ultimately bested the Philadelphia Eagles.
Fitzdares will stick with that event-focused and word-of-mouth approach going forward, including with a pop-up location it intends to open in the Muskoka cottage country of Ontario this summer. As Woodhams put it, some companies are spending tens of millions of dollars on celebrities and athletes touting their sportsbooks, but Fitzdares would rather spend a million on lobster for its clientele.
There are some practical considerations in taking a lower-key, quality-over-quantity approach to advertising a new sportsbook in Ontario’s already-crowded market. One is that it could help Fitzdares stand out from the crowd; another is that it could help the company avoid any disapproving glances from the regulator, especially as concerns about problem gambling have cropped up since Ontario launched its private-sector iGaming market in April 2022.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has also shown itself to be ready and willing to fine operators that get out of line. Several bookmakers were hit with monetary penalties in the early days of the Ontario market opening over advertising issues.
“Everyone’s come in a little bit hard and a little bit, dare I say, American,” Woodhams said. “I understand why you want to get market share, but there needs to be… a calming of the category. And hopefully when the category as a whole calms… then there’s definitely an opportunity for a premium provider within that mix.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean punters must plunk down six-figure bets every time they log on to the Fitzdares app, although the type of bettor the company aims to attract might be able to do so.
Generally speaking, someone who wants a taste of the high life, sits in good seats at a Toronto Maple Leafs game, and can afford a decent steak at Harbour 60 might fit in well with Fitzdares.
“I think it’s someone who just wants a premium brand,” Woodhams said. “I’m not asking for Rolex customers. As long as you’re a nice person, and you dig customer service, you’re perfect for us.”
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