The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is considering a ban on branded partnerships between online gambling operators and popular establishments such as bars and sports arenas, citing concerns of responsible gambling and regulatory oversight.
The AGCO on Thursday (October 6) announced a consultation on a prospective ban on any “promotional partnerships” which involve “the creation of any physical venue (temporary or permanent) where a purpose of the venue is to encourage and/or facilitate the placing of bets at the venue.”
In a discussion paper, the commission cited the potential for licensed online gambling companies to either directly operate physical venues such as a branded bar or restaurant, operate a branded lounge or “fan zone” at an Ontario sporting or entertainment event, or partner with the venue’s owner to do so.
According to the AGCO, such arrangements present various responsible risks including “increased association of alcohol consumption with gambling activity without proper responsible gambling measures in place, youth exposure to gambling advertising and activity, and promotion of gambling at venues intended for another purpose.”
A branded bar or betting lounge could also be incorrectly perceived by the public to be a physical gambling outlet “without having completed the required regulatory approvals and processes, including public input, and which in turn would otherwise by regulated by the AGCO.”
The Ontario gaming regulator’s consultation asks for public input on the risks associated with such promotional partnerships and what mitigating actions the AGCO might consider taking by way of a regulatory response to them.
Industry and public comments on the potential ban are due by October 31.
The AGCO consultation opened on Thursday is yet another sign of Canada’s largest province deviating from the typical regulatory approaches of U.S. states, where betting lounges have become commonplace at sports arenas in key sports-betting markets such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
Ontario’s regulatory standards already include a ban on bonus offers or other so-called “inducements” in online gambling advertising.
The AGCO’s discussion paper said the agency would continue to update its standards to address “emerging risks” related to online gambling.
“As part of this work, the AGCO continues to monitor gaming-related advertising and marketing activities, consistent with its indications that this would be an area of regulatory focus when Ontario’s regulated igaming market launched on April 4, 2022,” the AGCO said.
The consultation on branded partnerships comes just a few days after the AGCO updated its standards to prohibit registered suppliers or prospective operators from continuing to support or engage in any unregulated online gambling in Ontario from a cut-off date of October 31.
The regulatory authority also enacted new standards to require additional oversight and testing of live-dealer online casino operations.