The campaign to curb advertising of sports betting sites in Canada’s most populous province is gaining traction with Ontario’s opposition parties in the legislature.
John Fraser, interim leader for the Ontario Liberal Party, said Thursday that he tabled a motion in the provincial assembly this week calling for the government to “adopt a broader approach” to addressing the risks posed by the marketing for internet gambling.
“For many of us, these ads are simply intrusive, and really annoying,” Fraser said during a press conference at the legislature in Toronto. “For some, it comes at a much higher cost, and it’s something that we need to do something about.”
Fraser’s motion comes as the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is already proposing to ban the use of athletes and certain celebrities in advertising for legal sports betting and online casino gambling. The regulator proposed the prohibition after identifying advertising using personalities that appeal to people under the legal gaming age as an emerging risk and noted concern about the potential harms to younger people remains high.
But there is a push to curtail Ontario sports betting advertising beyond the efforts of the AGCO. For instance, the provincial arm of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has called for a total ban on online gambling ads. The political support for more ad restrictions from the Liberals also follows concerns aired by a member of another opposition party at Queen’s Party, the New Democrats.
“I have kids and grandkids,” NDP MPP France Gélinas said this week during a committee hearing. “They all know more about iGaming than I do. And I was wondering if you’re as worried about this as I am. How could it be that I learned more about iGaming watching the Stanley Cup than I ever cared to know about iGaming?”
Fraser, interestingly, said he was urging the Ontario government and the AGCO to go beyond just looking at celebrities in advertising.
But, according to the legislature’s website, Fraser’s motion says the Ontario government “should, alongside other relevant regulatory bodies, develop a strategic plan to regulate the timing, frequency, location and use of celebrities within gambling advertisements in the province in response to the increase in minors using online gambling services in Ontario.”
The political support still may not prompt much government action. While pushback from the New Democrats and Liberals may embolden the anti-advertising camp, members of those two parties are in the minority in the Ontario legislature. The Progressive Conservatives have a majority of seats at Queen’s Park, 81 to be exact, and can more or less do as they see fit legislatively.
But the Ontario Liberals pointed to a 2021 report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) that found students in grades 7 to 12 were gambling more online. According to that study, even before Canada decriminalized single-game sports betting in August 2021, 15% of those students said they gambled money line over the past year, up from 4% in 2019.
The Ontario Liberals are urging the government to work with the regulator and others to further adjust the frequency of online gambling advertisements, especially during broadcasts of live sporting events. Fraser noted during his remarks that England put in place a “whistle-to-whistle” ban on gambling advertisements during such broadcasts.
“For many of us, [advertising is] an annoyance,” he added. “For some of us, it has serious consequences. And at a time where we’re struggling with addressing the mental health and addiction needs in this province, there are forces working aggressively against us.”
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