Ontario’s gaming regulator has urged operators to use their own judgement to determine if product endorsers would violate new advertising standards that take effect this month.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) finalized new standards last year that prohibit operators from using current and former professional athletes to endorse sportsbooks, as well as celebrities who “would likely be expected to appeal to minors.”
The rules are set to take effect on February 28, and some companies have sought clarification in recent months as to what the regulator would consider “likely be expected” to appeal to minors.
However, the regulator cited its standards-based approach that focuses more on achieving broader regulatory outcomes than following specific rules and processes.
“While the AGCO recognizes the fluid nature of individuals’ appeal to different groups, given that public interest and appeal is dynamic, we encourage [registered operators] to use their judgement to determine whether the individual likely appeals to minors,” the regulator said in new guidance released Thursday (February 8).
“The AGCO will be looking for Registrants to conduct a credible assessment, using criteria they have established for likely appeal, supported by records and control activities.”
Factors that registered operators should consider, the AGCO said, could include the demographic composition of the celebrity’s fan base, or whether the celebrity has “obvious or direct links to activities that are popular with minors,” such as gaining their notoriety for being in a movie that appeals to children.
The standard covers “role models” and “social media influencers,” and the AGCO said that although there was operator interest in a more firm definition, such as a minimum number of social media followers, the judgement needed to instead be focused on the potential appeal to minors.
"The AGCO is aware that the iGaming environment is constantly evolving, as are operator advertising and marketing strategies,” the AGCO wrote. “We encourage Registrants to take a cautious approach and to assess the risks of using certain individuals.”
The standard for professional athletes does include an exception for “the exclusive purpose of athletes advocating for responsible gambling practices.”
Those advertisements may use an operator's brand, the AGCO said, but must ensure that responsible gambling is the focus of the advertisement “for its duration, and not merely mentioned in passing.”
The ads also cannot portray gambling as “appealing or fun” and cannot teach individuals how to gamble.
The AGCO also clarified that the rules are not intended to prevent the use of game footage in advertisements, nor do they prohibit sponsorship agreements with teams or logo placements on sports-team uniforms.
Operators had also expressed concerns about advertisements from outside the province that would violate the standard being aired outside an operator’s control, such as game broadcasts imported from U.S. television networks that include ads for an American audience.
“The AGCO recognizes that there are practical limitations on Registrants with respect to Ontario broadcasters displaying out-of-province advertisements which may not meet the Registrar’s Standards,” the regulator wrote.
“The AGCO will continue to work with Registrants to address the matter, in order to minimize impacts.”