Ontario’s New Gambling Advertising Landscape: Innovation and Regulations

In response to a wave of more rigorous regulations, companies providing online gambling services to Ontarians are poised to explore fresh and innovative approaches to advertising. A provincial regulator, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), is spearheading this change by implementing amended rules aimed at prohibiting athletes, celebrities, and other high-profile figures from endorsing their gambling services. These rules also extend their reach to entertainers, social media influencers, role models, and cartoon characters who are likely to appeal to underage Ontarians.

The gambling landscape in Ontario has long been saturated with advertising related to betting, which has played a pivotal role in driving tens of billions of dollars in wagers since the broad legalization of online betting in 2022. With the introduction of these new rules, the industry is bracing itself for a paradigm shift, one that is expected to usher in a new era of creativity.

Steven Salz, CEO and co-founder of Rivalry, a leading esports-focused betting company, shared his insights on the matter, stating that the forthcoming regulations are likely to spur operators to adopt more imaginative advertising strategies. Traditionally, the gambling industry has heavily leaned on celebrity and athlete endorsements as a cornerstone of their promotional campaigns. However, this regulatory overhaul is set to challenge the industry to break free from these conventions and explore innovative avenues of engagement with their audience.

The new regulations will be enforced universally across all marketing platforms, signifying that the familiar figures who have played pivotal roles in generating excitement at non-GamStop casinos, such as Wayne Gretzky, Auston Matthews, and Connor McDavid, are likely to disappear from future promotional campaigns.

Marketing experts anticipate that companies will adopt a combination of advanced technology and established marketing techniques to ensure that consumers remain informed about where to engage in gambling activities.

During a recent baseball game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, the backdrop featured gambling advertisements as Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reacted to a play, exemplifying the prevailing presence of such promotions in the sports arena.

Impact on Operators

William Woodhams, the CEO of the British bookmaker Fitzdares, has experienced a similar scenario before. When the United Kingdom imposed a ban on athletes participating in gambling advertising last year, his company had to swiftly adapt.

“We had just finished shooting a video featuring Fulham [F.C.] players the day before the ban came into effect!” Woodhams revealed in an email conversation with CBC News. In response to the ban, Fitzdares promptly replaced the athletes with former players and knowledgeable pundits.

Fitzdares, which also operates in Ontario, now faces the possibility of adjusting its advertising strategies in accordance with the recent announcements made by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

Woodhams expressed their current approach, which incorporates vintage sports images, and hopes it remains compliant with the new regulations. However, he emphasized that the company is actively seeking further clarification on specific aspects of the rules.

Paul Burns, the president of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), echoes the need for more clarity regarding the AGCO’s regulations. He emphasizes that industry members are eagerly awaiting guidance to understand the nuances of the rules, including the definition of an “athlete” and identifying content that might be appealing to minors.

Possible Tactics

Marketing expert Tony Chapman draws parallels between the evolution of marketing strategies employed by tobacco companies and the impending changes in Ontario’s gambling advertising landscape.

In the past, tobacco companies utilized recognizable and attention-grabbing mascots like Joe Camel, a cartoon character prominently featured in Camel product promotions during the 1980s and 1990s, and the iconic Marlboro Man. Notably, even Fred Flintstone played a role in promoting cigarettes in the early 1960s.

However, as societal attitudes toward these marketing methods shifted negatively, and the tobacco industry encountered obstacles in promoting its products, Chapman notes that tobacco companies were compelled to become more innovative in their marketing endeavors.

Chapman expresses the view that Ontario’s forthcoming regulations are long overdue and necessary. Yet, he also identifies potential loopholes in these regulations that could enable athletes who were previously involved in such advertisements to transition seamlessly into campaigns promoting responsible gambling at the best online casinos in the UK, a practice he strongly disapproves of.

Furthermore, Chapman underscores the growing influence of technology-driven marketing trends, particularly the rise of “hyper-personalization.” This approach, powered by artificial intelligence and data analysis, empowers gambling operators to craft highly tailored advertisements that cater to individual preferences and behaviors. Whether targeting first-time or experienced gamblers or sports enthusiasts seeking to profit from their sports knowledge through betting, this level of personalization represents a significant shift in the marketing landscape.

A wider world of sports betting in Ontario:

Since 2021, following the relaxation of federal sports betting regulations, Ontario has embraced the world of sports betting with vigor, creating what some have likened to a “Wild West” gambling environment. CBC’s Jamie Strashin investigates the transformative impact of single-game betting on sports fans and raises concerns expressed by addiction experts.

Natalie Coulter, an associate professor specializing in communication and media studies at York University in Toronto, draws parallels between the gambling industry’s rapid expansion and the historical strategies employed by industries dealing with potentially harmful products such as tobacco, plastics, and oil and gas. Coulter observes that these industries often resort to “classic models” that emphasize individual responsibility for preventing harm, effectively shifting the focus away from corporate accountability. For example, they may encourage individuals to quit smoking or reduce littering.

In the midst of these campaigns, Coulter suggests that the emphasis on individual responsibility can serve as a distraction from addressing substantial policy changes that could have a more profound impact on mitigating harm associated with these industries.

Not Right Away

The forthcoming Ontario regulations, scheduled to come into effect in late February, will not have an immediate impact during the upcoming NFL season or a significant portion of the NBA and NHL seasons.

Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and professor emeritus specializing in sport and public policy at the University of Toronto, views this delay as a significant issue. He expressed his concerns during an interview on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, emphasizing that the provincial regulator appeared to have overlooked the potential harm caused by these advertisements.

Notably, the iconic ‘Joe Camel’ advertising character, featured on the side of a building in New York City, serves as a reminder of the tobacco industry’s past marketing practices. The use of such mascots, like Joe Camel, has long been discontinued. This shift in advertising approaches reflects the changing attitudes towards promoting potentially harmful products.

Paul Burns, representing the CGA, acknowledges that operators have contractual obligations that require time for adjustment. Echoing a similar sentiment, the AGCO, in an email statement, highlighted that the nearly six-month transition period is intended to facilitate a smooth adjustment process for operators.

It’s worth noting that similar regulatory measures have been implemented in jurisdictions beyond North America. For instance, when the United Kingdom imposed restrictions on athletes appearing in gambling advertisements, companies there also had approximately six months to adapt to the new regulations. The primary aim of such measures is to curtail the promotion of gambling to younger demographics.

More recently, the English Premier League made headlines by announcing its decision to cease featuring gambling sponsors’ logos on the front of jerseys. However, this change is not set to take effect immediately, providing time for teams and sponsors to adjust their branding strategies.

William Woodhams, an executive at Fitzdares, points out that despite these measures, gaming companies are redirecting their advertising budgets to other platforms, such as LED boards. This adaptive approach ensures that they continue to maintain a presence in the advertising space.

In summary, the forthcoming Ontario regulations may not take effect immediately, allowing operators a transition period to align with the new rules. These changes are part of a broader global trend to address the impact of gambling advertisements, particularly on younger audiences, and encourage responsible marketing practices.

Jarrod Bowen, left, of West Ham, challenges Newcastle’s Dan Burn during an English Premier League match in April. Notably, Premier League clubs have collectively agreed to prohibit gambling companies from featuring on the front of their shirts as sponsors. However, it’s important to note that this policy change will not take immediate effect.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, external observers from various fields have expressed their support for the AGCO’s (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) regulatory adjustments. Some even hold hope that these changes will extend further.

Natalie Coulter, a retired teacher and basketball enthusiast hailing from Vancouver, echoes this sentiment. She conveys her weariness regarding the pervasive presence of gambling-related content in Raptors broadcasts. Coulter remains deeply concerned about the potential influence of such content on her former students, emphasizing the need for vigilance.

While Cynthia Mendoza, along with numerous other sports fans, welcomes the forthcoming alterations, she emphasizes a stronger preference for the complete removal of these advertisements.

William Woodhams, CEO of the British bookmaker Fitzdares, believes that marketing practices within the Canadian gambling industry are gradually becoming more responsible. He underscores the industry’s realization that certain operators had exceeded acceptable boundaries in Ontario, thereby generating negative perceptions within the industry.

“This wasn’t welcome,” Woodhams asserts, reflecting a growing consensus that the industry is on a path toward increased accountability and transparency.

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