Ontario regulators say the result of a consultation process that could prohibit operators from using professional athletes and other celebrity endorsers in advertisements is coming soon.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) opened a consultation process in April that included proposed rule changes regarding celebrity endorsers for registered online gambling platforms.
The proposed policy would include a prohibition on using both active and retired athletes in advertisements and expand upon a prohibition on celebrity endorsers, such as social media influencers, from a narrower definition of those “whose primary appeal is to minors” to a broader prohibition on any endorsers “who would be reasonably expected to appeal to minors.”
The AGCO received 38 submissions during the consultation period, and CEO Tom Mungham said a final result is “weeks away, not months.”
“There has been no shortage of attention and opinion on this issue across Canada, indeed globally, whether it's in traditional print media, call-in shows, television, social media, and we've concluded our consultations on that,” Mungham said last week during an appearance at the Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto.
“That opinion is varied and quite widespread,” he continued. “I know you're anxious to hear from the registrar on this issue, and we'll be speaking with you shortly about that.”
Advertising has been a key issue in Ontario since well before the market launched in April 2022, with the AGCO enacting strict regulatory standards from the start, including a prohibition on using inducements, such as bonus offers, in public advertising.
“Our advertising standards, I think, are quite robust,” said Christopher Hovius, senior counsel for the AGCO. “They prevent the targeting of children, the targeting of self-excluded persons, as well as the targeting of high-risk persons.”
“We continue to watch this space,” he added. “Obviously, [privately operated internet] gaming in Ontario is still relatively new, the market is evolving quickly. This particular area, advertising, has become a focus, I think we saw that with the feedback we were provided.”
Chantal Cipriano, vice president of legal, compliance and government relations for PointsBet Canada, said that while operators recognize the need for regulations that help the sustainability of the market, it is still important for operators to have as much clarity as possible on what the regulations aim to achieve and what behavior is actually prohibited.
“The one thing that we need to keep in mind is irrespective of the position you're in or the operator that you are, I think we need to take an objective position to any changes that are made when it comes to advertising so we have to be able to show that there's a direct correlation between the change and reducing the harm so we don't make an arbitrary type of change,” she said.
Cipriano used the proposed prohibition of celebrity endorsers would “reasonably appeal to minors” as an example of something where clarity could potentially be improved.
“From my perspective, that is a bit challenging,” Cipriano said. “I don't know what reasonable would entail when you're referring to a brand ambassador. Does it refer to the individual? Does it refer to the content the individual has? Does it refer to the followers?”
“And that changes all the time, so you may make a determination at one point and believe it to be compliant and at a later date, it may not necessarily be compliant,” she added. “So that's definitely a challenge.”
In response, Hovius said that while it is too early to say if the AGCO will provide further guidance such as an interpretation bulletin, he believes the AGCO has demonstrated a willingness to work with operators.
“The AGCO, I think overall in terms of being an administrative agency has to conduct itself reasonably,” Hovius said.
“I think as a goal that’s shared among all panelists is that we have a sector that is compliant, and nobody wants to be in a situation where it's governed only through enforcement actions, but rather, everybody is governed through activities that are in fact compliant with the standards, such that any sorts of formal compliance action against operators is to whatever extent possible, minimized.
“Whether that's through clarity or dialogue or consultation in respect to proposed standards, the AGCO, I think, has shown itself to be quite reasonable and open to engaging with the sector,” he said.