Change is Coming to Sports Betting Advertising in Canada — But Slowly, and Maybe Confusingly

While regulatory efforts are on track for implementation in Ontario early next year, the success of legislation in Ottawa and Toronto remains uncertain.

Nov 23, 2023 • 17:35 ET • 4 min read
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The pace of sports betting-related advertising reform in Canada may be slow, but it’s happening, according to lawmakers, regulators, and a key industry group. 

Canada saw a burst of sportsbook-related marketing following the decriminalization of single-game wagering in the country in 2021 and then the launch of a competitive market for internet gambling in Ontario in April 2022. 

That advertising eventually prompted pushback from at least one provincial regulator and motivated a few legislators to introduce bills to try to curtail the marketing campaigns. 

However, while regulatory efforts are on track for implementation in Ontario early next year, the success of legislation in Ottawa and Toronto remains uncertain. 

What is certain is that there is an appetite among some policymakers to rein in sports betting-related advertising. Members of the gaming industry are well aware.

“I have met with some of the people who are maybe not at the highest levels in some of these organizations, but at meaningful levels,” Saskatchewan Sen. Brent Cotter said Wednesday. “And the message I've conveyed to them is this set of constraints on your line of work is coming. And it’s inevitable.”

Cotter was speaking on a virtual panel convened by his fellow lawmaker, Ontario Sen. Marty Deacon, who tabled a bill earlier this year that would create a national framework for sports betting-related advertising.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage would be responsible for crafting the blueprint, which would outline measures to oversee the advertising of sports betting in the country. 

That would be done “with a view to restricting the use of such advertising, limiting the number, scope or location — or a combination of these — of the advertisements or to limiting or banning the participation of celebrities and athletes in the promotion of sports betting," the text of the bill, numbered S-269, states. 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would also be tasked with reviewing its regulations and policies “to assess their adequacy and effectiveness in reducing the incidence of harms resulting from the proliferation of advertising for sports betting.”

Deacon said Wednesday that the backers of her bill have “general support” in Canada’s Senate, which is one of two chambers the legislation must pass before it becomes law. She added that they have met with ministers who sit in that second chamber, the House of Commons, and that they are hoping S-269 will receive its second reading soon and head to a Senate committee for further debate. 

The hope for a bill that could curtail the promotion of online sportsbooks comes after many legislators, Deacon included, voted in 2021 to legalize single-game sports betting across the country. The hope there was that it would help pull wagering out of the grey and black markets and provide new revenue opportunities for a COVID-19-struck gaming industry and provinces. 

“It did not take long, and when I say hours, I mean hours, for Canadians to be inundated with a torrent of advertising for [single-game] sports betting,” Deacon said Wednesday. “This featured well-known celebrities and athletes. And, although Ontario is the only province thus far to allow single sports betting in the private market, Canadians across the country, all ages, from coast to coast to coast, are bombarded with advertisements to place bets through any number of companies.”

It ain't easy

But Deacon’s bill has a long way to go before it is law, if it ever gets there at all. It is not a government bill and no party in the House of Commons controls a majority of seats, meaning the passage of any measure will take compromise, at the very least, to make progress.

In Ontario, home to Canada’s only competitive iGaming market, the prospects of legislative change are even bleaker. There, Bill 126, the Ban iGaming Advertising Act, was introduced in June by members of the official opposition, but it has not budged since its first reading. Considering the governing party has a firm majority of seats in the legislature, the ad-banning bill, the only one of its kind this session, may go nowhere.

Nevertheless, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) confirmed in August that it would ban the use of athletes and certain celebrities in iGaming advertising in Canada’s most populous province (unless they are talking about responsible gambling only). 

The restrictions, however, will not take effect until Feb. 28, 2024. In the meantime, the regulator is discussing the measure’s implementation with the industry.

Can you be more specific?

Early feedback suggests the gambling sector wants something more concrete from the AGCO. The Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), whose members include brick-and-mortar casino operators as well as digital bookmakers like DraftKings and FanDuel (Covers is also a member), reported last week that the AGCO began consulting on its incoming ad changes, starting with the industry group.

“We took the opportunity to voice our concerns about the standards as they are written and pushed for clarity and additional guidance, and also asked what the outcome would be from the handful of meetings with operators this week,” the CGA said in an email to members. “We expect to continue our consultation with the AGCO as the new guidance is developed.”

In particular, the CGA said it reiterated the industry supports the intent of the updated standards — “no one wants to appeal to or influence minors and our key objective is to be compliant,” the group said — but added the sector is seeking flexibility and guidance. 

Trying to avoid a repeat

The CGA cited the experience the industry had with Ontario’s rules for gambling inducements, as several operators were fined for missteps following the launch of the province’s competitive iGaming market in April 2022. Operators are not allowed to broadly promote bonuses and free bets in Ontario, but they can send them to customers if they opt in to such ads. 

As the CGA put it, “no one wants a repeat of that experience,” although the group wants a better idea of what is and is not allowed.

“We discussed the need for proper examples in the guidance, the need to be transparent on transgressions, and regular guidance updates, as this is an evolving space and it is in nobody’s interest (AGCO or the industry) to have the AGCO sanction an operator under this standard, as the damage to the overall market will be significant,” the CGA said. “We also suggested that greater market enforcement will be critical going forward as the revised standards are taking away another opportunity for the regulated market to promote itself. The industry expectations are now very high, as they see a lot of policing of the registered operators [but] not much on illegal operators.”

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