Ontario Regulator Proposes Ban On Athletes In Sports-Betting Advertising

April 13, 2023
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Ontario regulators are proposing a new regulatory standard that would prohibit the use of current and former professional athletes in sportsbook advertisements.

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Ontario regulators are proposing a new regulatory standard that would prohibit the use of current and former professional athletes in sportsbook advertisements.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced a new consultation Thursday (April 13) that includes proposed changes to the Registrar’s Standards.

Included in those changes is a prohibition on advertisements that “use athletes, whether active or retired, who have an agreement made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator or gaming-related supplier.”

The new rule also expands restrictions on celebrity endorsers in general, changing the standard from prohibiting the use of a celebrity “whose primary appeal is to minors” to a broader “who would reasonably be expect to appeal to minors.”

The proposed change adds “social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers” who would be reasonably expected to appeal to minors to an existing list that includes “cartoon figures, symbols, [or] role models.”

The AGCO said that it has continued to monitor the rollout of the online gaming market since its April 2022 launch, including the review of marketing and advertising practices.

“As a result of this monitoring, 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,” the regulator said in a document explaining the proposed changes.

“Public concern regarding the potential harmful impact on the most vulnerable population, underage persons, remains high,” it continued.

“There are concerns that gambling behavior among these underage persons is being encouraged due to the appeal of celebrities and/or athletes who are associating themselves with promoting gambling activities.”

The AGCO is seeking feedback on the new proposed standards by May 8, and said it would consider delaying implementation of the new standard for three months following publication of the final standard in order to give affected operators and suppliers time to comply.

Criticism of active professional athletes being involved in ads for sportsbooks has been a flashpoint since the launch of the province’s new online gaming regime last April.

The AGCO’s standards already prohibit operators from using inducements such as bonuses in public advertising, unlike in the U.S. where such advertising is commonplace.

Major sports leagues were slow to permit active professional athletes to endorse sportsbooks. Prior to 2022, the National Hockey League (NHL) was the only league to permit it, or at least not explicitly prohibit it, and that is where much of the controversy in hockey-crazed Canada has stemmed from.

Two of the league’s top young stars, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, quickly reached endorsement deals with sportsbook operators, McDavid with BetMGM and Matthews with Bet99.

In addition, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, one of Canada’s most recognizable figures, also has an endorsement deal with BetMGM.

Recently, more leagues have begun to permit active athletes to endorse sportsbooks through new collective bargaining agreements (CBA) with their respective players associations.

Major League Baseball (MLB) players were permitted to endorse sportsbooks as part of a new CBA agreed to in 2022, and reportedly, National Basketball Association (NBA) players will be able to not only endorse sportsbooks but own equity stakes in sportsbooks as part of a new CBA agreed to earlier this month.

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