The Alcohol and Gambling Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has put in place a ban prohibiting the use of pro athletes and celebrities in gambling advertisements and marketing materials.
This ban and its associated restrictions will come into effect on February 28th, 2024.
The Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming have been updated by the AGCO with the aim of protecting any minors from being influenced by celebrities and pro athletes who, it would be expected, would likely appeal to them.
These standards have also been strengthened in an effort to restrict the appearance of these influential figures in gambling marketing and advertising in Ontario.
In a statement, Tom Mungham, the registrar and CEO of AGCO, made the following remarks:
“Following the first year of Ontario’s open, regulated iGaming market, the AGCO identified advertising and marketing approaches that use athletes, as well as celebrities with an appeal to minors, as a potential harm to those under the legal gaming age and is taking this step to reduce the risk.”
Among these athletes and celebrities, NHL stars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, as well as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, have all appeared in internet gaming advertisements.
The news of this ban does not come as a surprise: In April of 2023, several consultations were held by the AGCO in which the proposal for these restrictions was discussed.
In reaction to this proposal, a number of stakeholders, gambling experts and mental-health organizations submitted their submissions for its approval.
With regards to this, Mungham stated the following:
“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to. We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”
In addition to this, Mungham went on to say that this ban “comes after significant criticism from advocates, experts and parents about the notable rise of online gambling advertisements, especially during live sports.
“For example, during a 2023 playoff series game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers, nearly eight and a half minutes of advertisements were dedicated to online sport gambling.”
What was described as a torrent of ads was, overall, not well received, and an appeal to the appropriate authorities was made to push for new regulations that would limit this bombardment of potentially harmful gambling advertisements.
Exactly a year before the proposal of this ban, in April 2022, Ontario became the first province in Canada to launch a fully open and regulated iGaming market, and exactly a year before that, in April 2021, Sport Betting became legal for the first time in Canada.
What this new ban entails
Prior to these new restrictions, gambling operators in Ontario could not place any marketing materials that pertained to gambling inducements, bonuses, and credits.
They could, however, put as many advertisements as they liked, as no established limits were set with regard to the amount that they could advertise overall.
This spurred many gaming operators to spend millions on marketing campaigns, and to recruit many well-known athletes and celebrities as both ambassadors and as the centerpieces of their advertisements.
The following is a list of what this new ban entails:
Online gaming operators in Ontario are not allowed to place any athletes, whether they are active or retired, in advertisements or marketing materials.
The exception to this rule is for the inclusion of athletes who are participating in ads about the advocacy for responsible gaming practices.
In addition to this, this new ban pertains to the inclusion of other influential figures in internet gambling marketing campaigns. These include figures such as social media influences, cartoon figures, entertainers, role models, and any symbols that are likely to appeal to minors.
These new regulations will not have any effect on the location, volume, and style of gambling ads in Ontario.
The regulations pertaining to the introduction of this new ban are planned to come into force starting from February 28th, 2024.
Critics of the onslaught of gambling ads in Ontario
Not everyone is pleased with the introduction of this ban, or with some of the regulations that it imposes.
Many have expressed their complaints and voiced their concerns about the way in which these regulations do not include any restrictions on the volume of gambling ads that will be allowed to be dispersed.
The total run time of commercials during sporting events that are aired in Canada was also noted by several sport fans, remarking that, in comparison to the total game clock, the gambling ads were far too numerous.
Among other critics of online gambling advertisements, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh also expressed the following:
“I think the irritant is the ads. People are really upset with that, I get it.”
Waugh is a member of the House of Commons of Canada. His private member’s bill had a deep impact on the amendment of the Canadian Criminal Code, as well as on the legalization of single-game sports betting.
Who is the AGCO?
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is a provincial regulatory agency.
Amongst its many responsibilities, this agency oversees the regulation of the following sectors in Ontario:
Cannabis retail sectors
iGaming Ontario (iGO), on the other hand, is a subsidiary of the AGCO.
The iGO is responsible for the managing and conduct of internet gaming in the province of Ontario.
Why are internet gaming ads so prominent in Ontario?
The reason as to why so many advertisements that push online gambling are being disseminated in Ontario is because of the exponential growth in revenue in the iGaming industry in the last few years.
iGaming Ontario (iGO) reported that, during the first full quarter of the 2023-24 fiscal year, a total gaming revenue of $545 million was accrued.
When compared to the revenue accrued during the same period of the previous year, a total of $162 million, this record value sheds light on the prominence and rapid increase of online gambling ads in Ontario.
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