After Approving Single-Game Gambling, Canadian Senators Now Urged to ‘Fix’ Sports Betting Advertising

One Canadian Senator even said he is now "torn" about whether it was wise to vote for a single-game sports betting bill.

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Jun 5, 2024 • 13:14 ET • 4 min read
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The Senate of Canada’s role is often described as providing “sober second thought” about legislation. Some senators are now thinking very soberly about what to do about advertising for sports betting in Canada more than two years after federal lawmakers authorized single-game wagering. 

Bill S-269, the National Framework on Advertising for Sports Betting Act, had the first of its two scheduled committee hearings this week on Tuesday before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications in Ottawa. 

During that two-hour hearing, it was clear some Canadian senators are worried about what their decision to pass legislation authorizing single-game sports betting in the country in 2021 has led to, given the seeming surge in online gambling ads that followed. 

“We have the privilege of sober second thought,” said Ontario Sen. Marty Deacon, the sponsor of Bill S-269, during the hearing. “We have the opportunity to fix this.”

Among other things, the legislation would require the Minister of Canadian Heritage to develop a national framework for sports betting advertising.

The framework would identify ways to regulate those ads with an eye toward limiting their number and restricting when and where they are seen. It would also look at limiting or banning the use of athletes and celebrities in promoting sportsbook operators, which provincial regulators in Ontario have already done.

Deacon noted she is aware of the work of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to ban athletes from most iGaming ads, but said there is a "truck-size loophole" that still allows them to be used to promote responsible gambling.

“This encourages gambling, and associates them with the brand, which has been empirically proven to appeal to children,” Deacon said. “It has also done nothing to rein in the amount of ads Canadians are seeing nationwide, despite Ontario being the only province where you can legally bet with these companies.”

Feeling 'torn'

As highlighted in the preamble to her bill, Deacon’s concerns include the risks to minors and those prone to addiction when they are exposed to more gambling ads. 

While the regulation of commercial gambling in Canada falls to the provinces, not the federal government, Deacon is trying to at least encourage provincial governments to work together. The national framework envisioned by her legislation would also identify ways to promote the sharing of information related to preventing minors from engaging in harmful gambling activities and set out national standards for addiction prevention and diagnosis. 

Deacon is not alone in the Senate in worrying about sports betting advertising. Canadian lawmakers are also not alone in this in North America, as their U.S. counterparts are dealing with similar concerns.

However, there is no guarantee Bill S-269 becomes law. It may never, and the fact it started in the appointed Senate and not the elected House of Commons could make its passage more difficult. The bill was introduced in June 2023 and needs to clear the transport and communications committee and receive another full vote in the Senate before it passes the chamber and can go before the House.

Asked about any discussions with the federal Liberal government about her bill, Deacon suggested the talks have been more informal than formal at this point. Even so, the senator said the government seemed supportive and would monitor S-269 as it makes its way through the upper house of Canada’s Parliament.

At the very least, the bill’s introduction signals an interest among some federal lawmakers in Canada in further regulation of advertising for sports betting in the country. The authorization of single-game gambling unlocked new betting markets for legal operators, who took to the airwaves and internet to tout themselves to players.

"I voted for the sports [betting] bill a couple of years ago,” said Quebec Sen. Leo Housakos, the chairman of the transport and communications committee, during Tuesday's meeting. “I'm in the middle right now, torn, on if I was wise by doing so."

Whither sports?

In most provinces, the only legal operators of online gambling are government-owned lottery and gaming corporations. Yet the debate about S-269 also comes as Alberta weighs whether to adopt a competitive market for online sports betting and iGaming similar to that of Ontario, where there are dozens of regulated sites and where regulators have already placed additional marketing restrictions on operators.

Ontario curtailed the use of athletes and certain celebrities for use in iGaming ads by its regulated operators. But the launch of a competitive market in Ontario in April 2022 led to a boom in advertising by provincially regulated entities seeking to introduce themselves to customers. Those ads were viewed by people outside of Ontario as well, who were exposed to the marketing in and around sporting events, such as the NHL playoffs. 

A competitive market in Alberta, which may happen by 2025, could act as a catalyst for a fresh round of advertising. Other provinces may follow suit as well. That could keep the interest in a national framework for advertising alive, and perhaps provide another argument for its implementation. 

Additionally, one of the worries among senators and critics of Canadian sports betting ads is more of an existential dilemma about sports in general. 

“One of my concerns about what’s happened in the last little while is that it starts to feel like sport is only a vehicle and excuse to bet and to gamble,” Saskatchewan Sen. Brent Cotter said Tuesday. “And if we’ve gotten so far down the road as that to be even significantly true, that’s a great loss to our society.”

The Senate's transport and communications committee is scheduled to meet again Wednesday evening to hear more testimony regarding Bill S-269, including from representatives of Canadian lottery corporations and mental health organizations.

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