Martin Sampson was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on television last spring, often doing so with his two teenage sons.
“I saw one gambling ad, then another one,” said Sampson, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association. “I started paying attention. I’m watching television and watching my kids and thinking ‘is this when the seeds of a gambling addiction are embedded into the heads of my kids?’ ”
The ”tsunami” of gambling advertising prompted Sampson to post an open letter on LinkedIn, which he sent to the National Hockey League, the NHL Players’ Association, Sportsnet, CBC, Rogers Sports & Media, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. From the letter:
I strongly urge the NHL, the broadcasters, the players who lend their names to these ads, and the CRTC to get your act together and reconsider your policies on sports betting and gambling advertising during hockey games.
Sampson reiterated his concerns on a virtual discussion last month hosted by Senator Marty Deacon, who sponsored in the Senate back in June Bill S-269 to develop a national framework to regulate sports betting advertising across Canada. Senator Brent Cotter, University of Toronto academic and retired Olympic athlete Bruce Kidd and Jeremy Luke – the CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport – also participated in the panel discussion.
Deacon, who along with Cotter and Luke supported the passing of Bill C-218 (the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act) in the summer of 2021, said there was a lack of understanding about the volume of advertising that would coincide with opening the door for single-event sports betting and the decision by the Ontario government to open a regulated online sports betting and gaming market in April 2022.
“Canadians across the country . . . were bombarded with ads to place bets with any number of companies,” Deacon said. “I felt over time that we did not get Bill C-218 right and we could do better.”
Said Cotter: “It became clear we needed to establish a regulatory framework that reined in that type of advertising and protected young people. That requires the engagement of the provinces which have significant regulatory authority over gaming.”
The senator later added, referring to the mix of advertising and betting conversation by broadcasters during games: “We need to look at the best strategies to create a clean terrain for sports.”
While the two senators referenced placing certain restrictions on gambling advertising around sporting events (as has been the case in some European countries and in Australia), Kidd and the Ban Ads for Gambling advocacy group of which he is a member, have called for a total ban.
“I’m grossed out by the tsunami of ads,” said Kidd. “I’m concerned about how gambling ads poison the culture of sport and how the image of sport is presented.”
The Senate, which is listening to second reading of Bill S-269, is in “general support” of the bill, according to Deacon. She added that both her and Cotter has met with federal politicians, and Kidd said members of parliaments from all five parties have “committed to us in informal ways that they will support the bill”.
“One prominent MP told me I was pushing an open door for his support,” he added.
Supporters of regulated sports betting and gaming point out, however, that the bill goes beyond the purview of the federal government. The passing of Bill C-218 amended the Criminal Code to give provincial governments authority over single-event sports betting.
“A national framework for gambling advertising might sound like a good idea, but it’s simply beyond the arena of the Senate or the Parliament of Canada,” said Troy Ross, a lobbyist and regulatory advisor in the gambling industry for almost two decades whose current company TRM Public Affairs represent a number of clients in Ontario’s regulated sports betting and online gaming industry. “The federal government doesn’t have the authority to do anything here.
“The question I would have (supporters of Deacon’s bill) posed is ‘is there value in engaging in provincial governments and with provincial gambling regulators on what reasonable advertising guidelines are?’
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario are currently in discussions with licensed gambling companies and other stakeholders on changes announced in April to standards that would restrict participation by athletes, celebrities and social media influencers in advertising.
“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,” the commission stated in announcing the new standards, scheduled to take effect at the end of February. “Concern regarding the potential harmful impact on the most vulnerable population, underage persons, remain high.”
Meetings between the AGCO and operators, suppliers and organizations requesting more information about the changes started in early November.
“Guidance on how to comply (with the rules), that’s what we’re looking for,” said Paul Burns, the president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. “Everyone accepts the premise that we don’t want advertising that influences minors.
“Some (operators) don’t use celebrities or retired athletes, but they still wonder how the changes will impact them with processes, or with the use of influencers on social media.”
This story is presented in partnership with Gaming News Canada.