Published: April 14, 2023

Ontario wants to keep sports stars out of gambling ads

New proposal aims to reduce the appeal of gambling to kids

Sports gambling companies in Ontario may soon have to advertise their services without the help of big-name sports stars or other celebrities. 

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) wants to ban the use of athletes and celebrities who might appeal to kids in internet gambling advertisements. 

"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," says a blog post published by the commission Thursday. 

The new rules, if finalized, would mean all gambling advertising that uses active or retired athletes will have to stop. They would also prohibit companies from using cartoon figures, social media influencers, celebrities, and symbols or role models who are "reasonably expected to appeal to minors" in their advertising. 

The proposed rules would come as an amendment to the province's internet gambling advertising standards. The commission will be accepting comments from stakeholders until May 8 before making any official changes. The AGCO is proposing that any new rules wouldn't take effect until three months after the publication of final, amended standards — but the commission does not specify when that publication might be. 

In April 2022, the United Kingdom instituted similar rules, banning athletes, reality TV and social media stars who appealed to young people from appearing in gambling ads. And just this week, clubs in the U.K.'s Premier League agreed to stop advertising gambling companies on their soccer jerseys. 

NHL stars past and present like Wayne Gretzky, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid can be found in commercials, online ads and on billboards representing online gambling companies. 

In January, CBC's The Fifth Estate published an investigation into sports betting in Canada. When contacted by CBC for that investigation, Gretzky, McDavid and Matthews all declined to talk about the gambling brands they represent. 

How big is gambling in Ontario? 

Since Ontario became the first province in Canada to launch an open, regulated iGaming market, there have been more than 1.6 million active player accounts on websites operated by companies with agreements with iGaming Ontario (iGo), according to iGo. There are more than 40 operators with such agreements — 31 of them offer sports betting.

On April 4, iGo said in the legal online gambling market's first year, the province delivered "about $35.6 billion in total wagers and approximately $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue." But those numbers don't solely include sports betting, as they also cover casino games and peer-to-peer poker. The data from iGo does not detail the proportion of bets that were strictly made on sports. 

The totals shared by iGo also don't include the digital gaming business that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) accounts for, including its own sports betting transactions.

According to an Ipsos survey conducted in March, basketball was the most popular sport in the province for bettors (at 28 per cent), followed by soccer (15 per cent), football (14 per cent), hockey (nine per cent) and baseball (eight per cent).

A previous version of this story stated that in the legal gambling market's first year, bettors placed about $35.6 billion in wagers and that the province received $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue. This story has been updated to clarify that the data from iGaming Ontario does not detail the proportion of bets that correspond strictly to sports betting. The story also stated there are more than 40 companies with agreements to provide online gambling services in Ontario. This story has been updated to clarify 31 of those companies provide sports betting.,kids%20in%20internet%20gambling%20advertisements.

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