Ontario Proposing to Ban Sports Betting Sites from Using Athletes in Ads

A boom in legal wagering in Canada's most populous province was accompanied by advertising campaigns that have raised eyebrows.

Apr 13, 2023 • 11:56 ET • 3 min read
Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers NHL
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Ontario has decided there are too many men on the ice endorsing legal sports betting

Indeed, the regulator of online sports betting sites in Canada’s most populous province announced on Thursday that it is proposing to ban the use of current or retired athletes in advertising for internet gambling in Ontario.  

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is also proposing to prohibit the use in iGaming ads of “cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities or entertainers” who are “reasonably expected” to appeal to young people. The regulator already bans the same kind of advertising of Ontario sports betting using someone that would “primarily appeal” to minors, meaning the change would raise the bar for acceptable spokespeople for bookmakers. 

These tweaks to the AGCO’s advertising standards for iGaming are being proposed “with the goal of further minimizing potential harm” to children and young people, the watchdog said.

“As part of its mandate, the AGCO monitors and identifies emerging risks and, where necessary, the Registrar updates the Registrar’s Standards to mitigate them,” the regulator explained on its website. “The AGCO has identified advertising and marketing approaches that strongly appeal to persons who are under the legal gaming age through the use of celebrities and/or athletes. Concern regarding the potential harmful impact on the most vulnerable population, underage persons, remains high.”

A long time coming

The AGCO said it will accept comments on its proposals until May 8. If and when the changes are made official, the regulator says they would take effect three months after the final standard is published on its website, giving operators and suppliers time to adjust their advertising accordingly. 

Thursday’s announcement comes a week after Ontario celebrated the first anniversary of the launch of the province’s competitive iGaming market. In April 2022, Ontario became the first province in Canada to allow multiple private-sector operators of online sportsbooks and casinos to legally take bets from residents. 

The new market sparked a boom in iGaming in Ontario. In just over a year, more than $35 billion was wagered in the province with more than 40 regulated operators. 

However, that boom was partly driven by a wave of advertising by bookmakers trying to get a foothold in the new market. Ontarians were seemingly swimming in such ads, and other parts of Canada wound up getting a healthy dose as well via the internet and television. 

Some of the advertising unveiled by operators featured athletes and celebrities, such as hockey star Connor McDavid and legend Wayne Gretzky touting BetMGM. The sudden spike in all things sports betting and the use of athletes who might be idolized by young people rubbed some Canadians the wrong way, culminating in a high-profile investigation by the CBC that was published in January. 

While advertising for online sports betting in Ontario will still be allowed, there were signs that regulators were preparing to tweak the rules

"Since the introduction in April 2022 of a new internet gaming market in Ontario, a key objective has been to create a safe, competitive, and well-regulated igaming environment for the people of Ontario," the AGCO said on Thursday. "From the outset, the AGCO has indicated that it would assess and update the regulatory framework as the market evolves."

And, as noted by the regulator on Thursday, there is still concern about marketing that uses popular athletes. 

“The AGCO is therefore proposing to prohibit the use of athletes as well as celebrities that can reasonably be expected to appeal to children and youth from internet gambling advertising and marketing in Ontario,” the regulator said. 

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