Ontario is banning athletes and celebrities from appearing in gambling ads

Athletes and some other celebrities will be banned from appearing in commercials that promote online gambling as of February 2024 in Ontario.

The ban, enacted by The Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO), includes active or retired athletes along with cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities or entertainers who “would likely be expected to appeal to minors.” 

This is a change that will strengthen the existing standard that previously prohibited advertising content around gambling with “a primary appeal to minors.”

The AGCO said the goal is to minimize the “potential harm” to young people and that the ban would be aimed at “athletes as well as celebrities that can reasonably be expected to appeal to children and youth.”

In a statement released in April, the AGCO opened consultations around stronger regulations for gambling ads, noting that they had “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. Concern regarding the potential harmful impact on the most vulnerable population, underage persons, remain high.” In Ontario, the legal sports betting age is 19.

Some of Canada’s most high-profile athletes have been featured in online sports betting promotions over the last little while including Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid.

 

These changes come after Ontario marked the first anniversary of regulated online gambling, iGaming, which is a subsidiary of the AGCO.

Since the legalisation of single-game sports betting in Canada and the influx of gambling ads in Ontario, advocates, experts and parents have shared their concerns about the influence of celebrities and athletes in these ads and the effects they’ll have on young viewers.

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health was one of the organizations to support restrictions around celebrities in gambling ads back in May, noting in a statement that the gambling ads that have appeared in Ontario “seem designed in part to reach non-gamblers and encourage them to gamble – often through messaging or sponsorships that would be forbidden in other jurisdictions or for other substances [and] activities known to carry risk.”

The AGCO’s new changes come into effect on Feb. 28, 2024.

“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” Tom Mungham, chief executive officer of the AGCO, said in the crown agency’s statement. “We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”


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