Ontario Regulator Bans Athletes From Online Gambling Ads ‘to Protect Minors,’ But Adults Happy

Ontario bans athletes from online gambling ads beginning on Feb. 28, 2024, “to protect minors.” However, the announcement on Aug. 29, 2023, about the upcoming rule enforcement primarily appears to be making adults happy.

On Tuesday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) published an overview of the new marketing and advertising rules. AGCO said the new rules will protect minors and problem gamblers.

The announcement says that on Feb. 28, 2024, the provincial regulator will prohibit “registered Ontario iGaming operators” from using active or retired athletes in their marketing and advertising. However, those “role models” can be used for responsible gambling efforts.

Meanwhile, the announcement doesn’t stop there. The ads can’t have minors or anyone who appears to be under 18. (This is in a province where the gambling age is 19-plus.) The commercials also can’t be broadcast to an audience that may be mostly underage. In other words, no ads during cartoon shows.

Plus, AGCO said the following types of individuals who “would likely be expected to appeal to minors” can’t be in online casino, poker, esports, and sports betting marketing and advertising:

  • celebrities
  • role models
  • social media influencers
  • entertainers

The broad prohibition also includes “cartoon figures” and “symbols.”

AGCO Registrar and CEO Tom Mungham said in Tuesday’s announcement:

Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to. We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.

AGCO said the rule would be enforced in every marketing and advertising channel, including television, the internet, and out-of-home contexts, like sporting venues primarily filled with children. That also means gambling ads can’t be on billboards near schools.

The regulator’s announcement concludes:

Additional Information AGCO plans to issue additional brief guidance in the coming weeks.

Athletes Banned From Online Gambling Ads, Adults Happy

Since Tuesday, Ontario’s adults have been celebrating the information.

One such X update even took a jab at Ontario-born 62-year-old Wayne Gretzky, the former NHL superstar who’s been repping BetMGM in Ontario.

Anthony Campbell‘s post is a reply below:

Another X status update added in a mustachioed 25-year-old Auston Matthews. The California native plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs and performed in a Bet99 commercial in February 2022, before the legal marketplace launched in Ontario on April 4, 2022.

Howard Lis, whose X biography says he’s an “avid skier, Habs fan, tennis player, hiker, and most importantly a Dad,” posted on X on Tuesday:

A Reddit poster with the screen name VeryLastChance got 903 upvotes for saying on Tuesday:

That’s a good start. I have zero issue with legal sports gambling but the advertising has gotten outright absurd, and desperately needs some regulation. The player/celebrity ads specifically feel like they are targeting kids, which is a big concern. Other vices like cigarettes or alcohol have strict advertising regulations, and gambling needs to go the same route.

Xeteh responded:

Yeah, you can’t watch/listen to anything sports-related without being inundated with gambling ads constantly. I get podcasts need to make money to exist but I get so tired of listening to them try to sell me on how effortless it is to bet on everything.

Ontario’s Possible Influence on the US

Having athletes banned from online gambling ads could catch on in the US. However, it may take some time.

Here’s why.

Ontario regulators were ahead of the iGaming marketing and advertising crackdown of pulling “risk-free” language from commercials before the marketplace even launched last year.

In the US, that practice didn’t take a firm hold until almost exactly a year later. On March 28, 2023, the gambling industry’s trade association published an update to its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering.

The guidance from the American Gaming Association (AGA) suggested online gambling operators discontinue the use of “risk-free” bet language in their marketing and advertising.

However, that change in US advertising also had much to do with backlash from the American public, legislators, and regulators. Those entities pushed for change after a Nov. 20, 2022, collection of articles published by The New York Times evaluated the legal US online gambling industry. Most of the coverage concerned sports betting, with some specific reporting on its impact on Americans below the legal gambling age. Most states enforce a 21-plus gambling age.

So it’s possible, even likely, that Ontario’s rule changes won’t result in online gambling operators altering their US marketing and advertising practices.

Athletes Banned From Online Gambling Ads in UK

It’s also unclear how effective banning athletes on iGaming commercials can really be for preventing underage gambling.

In October 2022, the UK prohibited sports and reality television celebrities from appearing on gambling ads.

In July 2023, Emily Herring of Finder reported:

In the year to March 2023, 44% of Brits aged 16 and over had gambled at least once, and a quarter (26%) of people had taken part in gambling online.

The total number is up from 43% who gambled in the year to March 2022 and from 40% in the year to March 2021. However, it’s lower than the percentage of people gambling pre-pandemic, which was 47% of adults in the year to March 2020.

Not all of those gamblers are minors. Plus, the statistic only includes about six months of the UK policy of reality TV stars and athletes banned from online gambling ads.

However, a 43% increase in gambling in the year ending in March 2023 vs. the year before isn’t exactly an endorsement for the end of the athletic endorsements.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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