As pushback against sports betting advertisements continues to grow across North America, Ontario lawmakers are considering significant action.
Ontario sportsbooks could see more promotional limitations after legislators introduced a bill proposing a prohibition on iGaming advertisements. However, lawmakers cannot take up the legislation until this fall because the bill was introduced in the final days of the spring session.
“We’re seeing an explosion of advertising,” Member of Provincial Parliament Lisa Gretzky, one of the bill’s sponsors, told LSR last week. “I live in a border town, and we see a lot of sports games, and it’s upwards of 15% of advertising. In Toronto, you can barely walk a block without seeing an ad; BetMGM, Bet99, the list goes on: subway stations, on the subway, on the radio.”
Sports betting can be sustainable
Gretzky said regulating the iGaming industry and eliminating the gray market was necessary. Still, she said Ontario rushed the opening of the commercial market and failed to put proper checks and balances in place for the online gaming industry.
Gretzky equated the deluge of advertising to how the tobacco industry used to be. In 1988, Ontario lawmakers banned advertising for tobacco companies.
“The tobacco industry is still thriving,” Gretzky said. “I don’t think this would be a major blow to the gaming sites and their revenue. But I know it’s the responsible thing to do.”
Ontario in the front up north
Ontario was the first Canadian province to open to commercial online gaming operators. Provincial legislators are now attempting to take the lead in curbing the advertising blitz on its residents.
Ontario Liberal Party leader John Fraser announced the push against iGaming advertisements earlier this month. Fraser hopes for a multi-pronged approach, including legislators and regulators.
“For many of us, these ads are simply intrusive and really annoying,” Fraser said during a press conference this month. “For some, it comes at a much higher cost, and it’s something that we need to do something about.”
The push to limit advertising in Ontario comes as regulators across US sports betting put more scrutiny on sportsbook promotion and partnerships. Caesars recently ended its partnerships with LSU and Michigan State over problem gambling concerns with largely underage student bodies.
Ontario regulators also pushing for limits
Earlier this year, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario opened up a public comment period on proposed advertising rule changes. The changes include prohibiting the use of celebrities in sportsbook commercials, like bet365’s Aaron Paul spots and BetMGM’s Wayne Gretzky endorsement.
The AGCO is reviewing its options after the public comment period closed in May.
“The AGCO is exploring the ban on celebrities and sports figures, but we’re saying there should be an outright ban,” MPP Lisa Gretzky said. “There are not the same checks and balances as we see in bricks and mortar casinos for responsible gaming.”
Pushback in Canada against sports betting ads
The Canadian Mental Health Association advocates banning celebrities in gambling ads. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health wants Ontario operators also to stop commercials during sports broadcasts.
A group called Campaign to Ban Ads For Gambling emerged this spring in Ontario. The association includes former Toronto Mayor John Sewell and Karl Subban, the father of multiple former NHL players.
This month, Kelly LaRocca, Mississauga of Scugog Island First Nation Chief. wrote an open letter to Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews about their sports betting ad appearances. LaRocca’s letter advocates for the AGCO to prohibit this use of athletes.
Ontario sports betting market status
Online iGaming began in Ontario in August 2021 with the debut of Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s ProLine+. Commercial operators launched in April 2022, and Ontario now has more than 40 online gaming options.
Before the commercial launch, regulators prohibited marketing promo offers to the general public without consumer opt-in. The AGCO also quickly fined multiple operators for violations early on in the market.
The first year of commercial iGaming in Ontario attracted $26.5 billion in wagers. Sportsbook operators recently announced a push for an open market in Quebec, suggesting the Ontario framework works well.