AGCO Proposing Ban On Online Sportsbooks Using Athletes And Celebrities To Promote Products In Ontario

Ontario‘s iGaming industry regulatory, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, is proposing a ban on online sportsbooks and casinos using active, or retired, athletes to promote their products in the province.

On Thursday, the AGCO released a consultation on proposed amendments to Section 2.03 of the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming. The paper outlines a series of questions the AGCO is seeking feedback on related to the proposed amendments. The consultation is open until May 8th, and the regulator is considering delaying the implementation of the amended Standards for three months following the publication of the final standard on the AGCO website.

The proposed amendments are:

  • Create an obligation for operators and suppliers to cease any advertising and marketing activities that use athletes, whether active or retired, in gaming marketing and advertising; and,
  • Prohibit the use of cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities or entertainers who are reasonably expected to appeal to minors. This proposed amendment differs from the current standard, which is applicable to persons that “primarily appeal” to minors. Advertising remains a permitted activity, provided other Standards are met.

“As part of its mandate, the AGCO monitors and identifies emerging risks and, where necessary, the Registrar updates the Registrar’s Standards to mitigate them. 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. Concern regarding the potential harmful impact on the most vulnerable population, underage persons, remains high,” the statement from the AGCO read.

Interestingly, a potential advertising ban could be widespread to include celebrities and social influencers that appeal to minors. If the amendment is passed as currently written, there will be several questions regarding what kind of advertising/marketing practices “reasonably” appeal to children and youth.

Advertising backlash in the province

Strict advertising restrictions were put in place by the AGCO prior to the launch of the regulated iGaming market last April. Private operators can’t use public advertising to promote bonuses, and a level of consent is needed from players in order for them to receive deposit, signup, or bonus offer information. However, these restrictions didn’t stop a tsunami of gambling advertisements across the province that many Canadians are now fed up with, according to a new Ipsos poll. And there was widespread confusion over these standards during the initial months post-launch, and it resulted in four operators (PointsBet, BetMGM, DraftKings, Unibet) being fined by regulators for advertising infractions.

The boom of gambling advertisements across the province, and Canada, really became a hot-button issue after the CBC aired a documentary on the potential harmful effects the advertising could have on the public, and in particular young people, in January. Recent ads from BetMGM featuring hockey stars Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid were flagged, as were many other advertisements from operators live in Ontario.

Some other current and former athletes being used in operator advertisements include Auston Matthews (Bet99), Kevin Garnett (BetMGM), Marshawn Lynch (BetMGM), Georges St-Pierre (Bet99), the Manning family (Caesars), Charles Barkley (FanDuel), and Rob Gronkowski (FanDuel), among several others. PointsBet Canada also has partnerships with members of the NHL Alumni Association and various professional curlers.

There has been no indication from Ontario’s iGaming industry regulators about any action that could be taken to limit the sheer volume of sports betting advertisements in the province.