Sports & Casino: Luke Garrison
Luke Garrison is a professional writer who grew up just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He currently works at the Canadian Press and enjoys the outdoors in his free time.
On Tuesday August 29th 2023, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) formally announced that it “…has updated the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming to prohibit the use of athletes in internet gaming (igaming) advertising and marketing in Ontario.”
The statement outlined other expected changes as well, citing “…the standards have also been strengthened to restrict the use of celebrities who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.”
In fact, the AGCO has also extended this ruling to cartoon figures, celebrities, entertainers, role models, social media influencers, and other symbols. The rules also apply to ads for online casinos in Ontario.
How will these changes affect sports fans? Read on to learn more about what this could mean for everyone who enjoys watching sports.
When Will These Changes Take Effect and How Did They Come To Be?
As of now, the new restrictions are tentatively set to begin on Wednesday February 28th, 2024. But how did these restrictions successfully transpire?
Throughout April 2023, the AGCO consulted with multiple stakeholders regarding its proposal for the ban including gaming experts and mental-health groups. This came exactly one year after the official launch of single-event sports betting (April 4th, 2022).
The initial charge was led by a number of concerned parties including politicians, parents of minors, and a group called ‘The Campaign to Ban Gambling Advertising’. The latter group is led by former Toronto mayor John Sewell and Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) board member Karl Subban.
Subban’s experience with both sports and children make him the perfect leader for this initiative. “A lot of the marketing is focusing on grabbing the attention of the most vulnerable, the youngest of our population,” Subban explained during an interview with CBC Toronto. As a school principal and a hockey coach with three sons who all went on to become professional hockey players, his words carry weight.
On the other side of the ledger, one of the biggest political advocates for these changes is Canadian senator Martha (‘Marty’) Deacon. On Tuesday June 20th, 2023, Deacon introduced Bill S-269 in the Senate in hopes to forming a national framework surrounding the regulation of sports betting advertising.
In an interview with CBC, Deacon stated very similar reasoning to Subban in regards to the dangers of sports betting ads without limits. She re-iterated that sports betting ads are often “very attractive, and addictive, and sensational.” Vivid colour schemes, coupled with famous faces, are a deadly combination when it comes to enticing the young and vulnerable.
Movement on Bill S-269 has been slow since June’s first chamber sitting. That being said, things are still moving in a positive direction as the first reading is complete and the second reading is in progress.
Completed June 20th, 2023
House of Commons
Consideration in Committee
Who Are These Ads Hurting the Most?
As touched on above, sports betting ads are most effective on young and vulnerable people – such as gambling addicts and children. “They catch the attention of young people,” Subban told CBC Toronto during an interview. “It’s a powerful way of marketing to them, which we know can have a harmful effect on young people.”
Unsurprisingly, Subban is far from the only concerned parent. In fact, Deacon has heard from several parents around the province who are worried sick about their children. “I have parents who are sending me distressing messages.” Deacon stated during an interview with CBC.
Sports betting operators will actually still be allowed to use celebrities during ads under one condition: for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices. Millions of dollars are spent on sports betting advertisements each year, and the Canadian betting sites themselves must also take some social responsibility.
Canada already has laws in place limiting alcohol and tobacco ads. Passing legislation for sports betting ads can be done in a very similar way, and should have a very positive effect on curbing the appeal and mitigating those who are at-risk.
What Does This Means for Sports Betting Ads in Ontario Going Forward?
In short, some of the most well-known and frequently played sports betting ads will have to be gone by Wednesday February 28th, 2024.
Examples of this include popular BetMGM commercials featuring the likes of hockey superstars Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. Other famous athletes and celebrities such as Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews as well as actors Aaron Paul and Mike Smith have made frequent appearances in ads of this nature.
These upcoming restrictions are a step in the right direction, but far from the end. In addition to Deacon and Subban, several others are calling for even more action including a national ban on sports betting ads altogether.
Shortly after the AGCO announcement, the Ontario NDP released a statement citing that “Health professionals have been sounding the alarm about the impact that online gambling advertising is having on people, especially on youth. Today’s news is welcome — now we need to follow the advice of experts and keep pushing for more.”
With so many supporters advocating for change, the sky’s the limit in terms of future sports betting ad bans.