Ontario Rolls Out Tightened Sports Betting Advertising Rules

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Ontario sports betting

As the US sports betting industry continues to wrestle with advertising, Ontario regulators are amending their rules for ads.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced Tuesday it updated the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming to prohibit the use of active or retired athletes in iGaming advertising in the province. The new ad rules for Ontario sportsbooks go into effect Feb. 28, 2024.

That means ads featuring the likes of NHL stars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, as well as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky will likely be no more north of the border.

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

Ontario changes ad standards

In April, the AGCO began discussing potential changes to its marketing guidelines. The agency sought advice from various parties, including mental health and public health organizations, responsible gambling experts, operators and broadcast and marketing groups.

Along with the banning of athletes, the new standards also restrict the use of celebrities who appeal to minors. There is a caveat, however, as athletes and celebrities can be used to advocate for responsible gambling.

The AGCO’s prior standard prohibited “the use of advertising and marketing content with a ‘primary appeal to minors.’”

Growing political attention on Ontario sports betting ads

Following the initial news the AGCO was working to change its guidelines, various Canadian politicians began exploring options to curb the glut of sports betting ads. 

Two Senators introduced legislation this summer to create a national framework for advertising sports betting in Canada. The intention is to make a similar structure for ads as for the tobacco industry.

Likewise, an Ontario lawmaker introduced a bill that would prohibit iGaming advertisements in the province.

Ontario already strict market

The commercial Ontario iGaming market launched in April 2022 and greatly limited the marketing efforts of sportsbooks and iCasinos. Operators could not advertise promos without a bettor explicitly opting to receive them. 

Within a few months, the AGCO fined multiple operators, including BetMGM and DraftKings. Those fines stemmed from ads on social media, TV and transit ads.

While the tight marketing rules might have limited the initial growth of Ontario sports betting, the market is starting to normalize and grow at a rate more in line with what was expected when legislators legalized sports betting.