It took longer than expected, but the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) updated its Advertising Standards for Ontario sports betting and online casinos last week.
But some in the industry are looking for more clarity so they can comply.
The AGCO is prohibiting the use of athletes in internet gaming advertising and marketing in Ontario. That means say goodbye to those Connor McDavid ads for BetMGM. Standards have also been strengthened to restrict the use of celebrities “who would likely be expected to appeal to minors,” the AGCO said in a statement.
The new restrictions will come into effect Feb. 28, 2024.
The AGCO held consultations on its proposal to ban ads and took in submissions from a range of stakeholders. AGCO Registrar and CEO Tom Mungham told an audience at the Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto in June that the AGCO received 38 responses to that consultation – Ontario online casinos and land-based operators, the charitable gaming sector, and associations in the health sector (such as the Canadian Mental Health Association) all weighed in.
Specifics of AGCO Advertising Changes
More specifically, the additions to the AGCO Standards for Internet Gaming are (bolded):
2.03 – Advertising, marketing materials and communications shall not target high-risk, underage or self-excluded persons to participate in lottery schemes, shall not include underage individuals, and shall not knowingly be communicated or sent to high-risk players. (Also applicable to Gaming-Related Suppliers)
Requirements – At a minimum, materials and communications shall not:
- Be based on themes, or use language, intended to appeal primarily to minors.
- Appear on billboards or other outdoor displays that are directly adjacent to schools or other primarily youth-oriented locations.
- Use or contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors. (This requirement has been changed.)
- Use active or retired athletes, who have an agreement or arrangement made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator or gaming-related supplier, in advertising and marketing except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices. (This requirement is new.)
- Use individuals who are, or appear to be, minors to promote gaming.
- Appear in media and venues, including on websites, and in digital or online media, directed primarily to minors, or where most of the audience is reasonably expected to be minors.
- Exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of all potentially high-risk persons, or otherwise extoll the virtues of gaming.
- Entice or attract potentially high-risk players. Instead, measures shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players. (This requirement has been changed.)
AGCO Says More Guidance Coming
The AGCO says it plans to issue additional guidance in the coming weeks, and that will no doubt be welcome. There is a need for more clarity in the industry among operators of casino apps in Ontario and other sectors of the industry.
“We think the Ontario experience is unique, it’s not comparable to the UK, or Australia,” said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. “We all want to make sure there is a healthy relationship with the customers. In the spirit of having the discussion in the context of what has been the experience here, looking at evidence-based decisions to come to standards that reflect what we need to do – the industry is committed to that.
“I think the request for a compliance guidance on the standards is absolutely necessary for operators to better understand, so they have the tools and clarity to comply, which everyone wants to do. The AGCO needs to help create that. The language changes slightly for some, and for other operators, this won’t affect them at all. From primarily appealing to minors to likely appealing, what does that mean? Now let’s figure out how everyone can comply. As we all know, there is a lot of money invested in advertising and marketing campaigns, so the industry wants to know how they can effectively produce marketing programs that comply.”
Defining What Celebrity Is
What does a celebrity, role model or influencer really mean?
“No one wants to go and create a campaign and then find out they can’t do what they wanted to do after the fact,” Burns said. “The business needs certainty going forward.”
As Burns added, there have been complaints about the volume of iGaming and Ontario sportsbook apps ads, but “very few” complaints about content in those ads. And there are robust standards from organizations like thinkTV already in place. They approve ads before they air, ensuring that the ads don’t appeal to minors and don’t use anyone under age 25.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which ran ads featuring Maple Leafs captain John Tavares in the past, as well as ads with retired goalie Curtis Joseph, said in a statement that it will ensure all of its advertising, “will continue to be produced in alignment with AGCO standards on marketing.”
The Tavares partnership expired. However, the Joseph ad was for responsible gambling, promoting the PlaySmart program.
Operators React To Ruling
Amanda Brewer, country manager Canada, Kindred Group, said the news wasn’t surprising. She said it cleans up any possible integrity issues involving athletes and the sports they represent.
“The AGCO still needs to provide clarification on what ‘athlete’ or ‘celebrity’ or ‘role model’ or ‘influencer’ means so until further information lands, this is a bit premature,” she said.
Unibet Ontario online casino doesn’t use athletes in its advertising, so the change doesn’t impact the company.
Brewer also added that no operator has been fined for violating the advertising standards specific to responsible gambling or appealing to minors since the market launched in April 2022.
Nic Sulsky, chief commercial officer of PointsBet Canada, said in a statement:
“We at PointsBet commend the AGCO for instituting the long-rumoured adjustments to operator marketing standards. As a part of the evolving regulated iGaming industry in Ontario, we are in full support of continued progress towards a truly levelled playing field for all operators – and one of the best ways to build towards that is with clear and concise rules so we all can properly develop and execute effective marketing strategies that will foster a healthy and responsible gaming ecosystem.”
His company offers the PointsBet Ontario sportsbook as well as online gaming.