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Ontario ban on use of celebrities in gambling ads begins today

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A ban on the use of athletes and celebrities in commercials promoting online gambling in Ontario is now in effect.

The changes were first announced by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) last summer, with officials noting the move was to “help safeguard children and youth who can be particularly susceptible to such advertising content.”

As of Feb. 28, no active or retired athletes may be used in advertising and marketing for Internet Gaming in Ontario, with the exception of advocating for responsible gambling practices.

The same rules apply to the use of celebrities, role models, social media influencers, entertainers, cartoon figures and symbols who would “likely be expected to appeal to minors.”

This can broadly be determined by looking at an individual’s fan base, assessing audience demographics and reviewing links the individuals may have to activities popular among minors, the ACGO said.

The changes are part of the AGCO’s commitment to not target minors or high-risk individuals in advertising, marketing or other public communications. There are other rules in place that prohibit gambling ads from being near locations such as schools.

Each province has been left to determine how to regulate the industry after single-game sport betting was legalized in Canada in 2021.

Since then, there has been a notable rise of online gambling advertisements, particularly during big live sporting events. During a 2023 playoff series game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers, for example, about eight and a half minutes of advertisements were dedicated to online gambling.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), who has been a strong advocate for the celebrity ban, commended the ACGO’s decision in a statement issued Wednesday.

“With the gamification of online gambling, youth are especially at risk of gambling-related harms,” said CMHA Ontario spokesperson Camille Quenneville. “These restrictions are a crucial first step in the regulatory action needed to reverse the alarming trends in online gambling among youth in Ontario.”

At the same time, they argue the restrictions should go further. Athletes should also be prohibited from participating in ads promoting responsible gambling practices, the CMHA said, and operators should not be able to sponsor segments in broadcast programming.

”We encourage a public health approach to regulating iGaming,” Quenneville added. “This includes implementing further restrictions on advertising and marketing until all advertising for iGaming is completely prohibited."

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 2023, about $17.2 billion worth of wagers were made through Ontario iGaming. Ontario iGaming’s third quarter review report notes this was a 21 per cent increase over their second quarter, resulting in about $658 million in total gaming revenue.

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