Ontario Regulators Affirm Ban On Athletes In Online Gaming Advertising

August 30, 2023
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Ontario gaming regulators have finalized new rules prohibiting the use of active or retired athletes, as well as other celebrities, from appearing in advertisements for online sportsbook operators.

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Ontario gaming regulators have finalized new rules prohibiting the use of active or retired athletes, as well as other celebrities, from appearing in advertisements for online sportsbook operators.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission for Ontario (AGCO) released updated Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming on Tuesday (August 29) that included the new prohibitions.

“Following the first year of Ontario’s open, regulated igaming market, the AGCO identified advertising and marketing approaches that use athletes, as well as celebrities with an appeal to minors, as a potential harm to those under the legal gaming age and is taking this step to reduce the risk,” the AGCO said in a statement.

The commission initially released the draft regulations as part of a consultation in April and received 38 responses from a variety of stakeholders.

“Following these consultations, the AGCO has determined that prohibiting the use of athletes and restricting celebrity endorsements would help safeguard children and youth who can be particularly susceptible to such advertising content,” the commission said.

The amended rules prohibit the use of active or retired athletes, but the finalized version does create a new exception, allowing athletes to appear in ads “for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gaming practices.”

In addition, the rules change restrictions on the types of celebrities that can appear in advertising. The previous standard prohibited celebrities, influencers, cartoon figures and others with a “primary appeal to minors.”

The new standard broadens that definition to those “who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.” This also reflects a change from the initial draft regulations, which would have seen the prohibition applied to anyone “who would reasonably be expected to appeal to minors.”

That change was at least in part the result of feedback from operators who complained that the definition of “reasonably” could be different from person to person and could be overly broad as a result.

“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” said Tom Mungham, the outgoing registrar and CEO of the AGCO. “We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”

The new standards will take effect on February 28, 2024, and will affect a number of companies with high-profile athlete endorsers.

BetMGM has existing tie-ups with Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, the league’s reigning most valuable player, and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. Bet99 also has a partnership with Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews.

The tighter rules were released as members of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) introduced Bill 126 in June in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that would ban all internet advertising in Ontario.

“It is better to prevent problem gambling than to try to treat it,” France Gelinas said as she introduced the bill on the Assembly floor. “It's harmful that advertising of such an addictive product takes up 15 percent of your average sports broadcast.”

Gélinas was joined in sponsoring the bill by MPPs Lisa Gretzky, Tom Rakocevic and Monique Taylor.

In addition, Marty Deacon, who represents a region of Ontario as an Independent senator in parliament, also introduced Bill S-269 in the Senate in June to create a national framework to regulate advertising.

Deacon’s bill is waiting for a second reading in the Senate, while lawmakers in Ontario will return for the 43rd Parliament, first session on September 25.

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