Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Silquia Patel watches the game after making her bets at the FanDuel sportsbook during the Super Bowl LIII in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Feb. 3, 2019.EDUARDO MUNOZ/Reuters

Timothy Dewhirst is a professor and senior research fellow in marketing and public policy at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph.

My son’s under-14 hockey team competed recently at the Winter Classic Tournament in Oakville, Ont. When arriving at the arena for their game, it was easy to be taken aback by the pervasiveness of sports betting ads there.

The team’s dressing room door was plastered with theScore Bet ads, as was the ice rink. Ads were apparent on the boards, the backdrop of the benches, near the penalty box and scoreboard, as well as on the building walls.

The Canlan Sports complex has four ice rinks, and all featured sports betting ads. Two featured theScore Bet and two had BET99 ads.

If the medium is the message, then sports betting ads are particularly inappropriate on a dressing room door (targeted towards players and coaches) or next to the scoreboard (associating wagers on outcomes involving minor athletes).

Sports betting ads at a kids’ hockey tournament are clearly offside. Yet, these ads conceivably remain in accordance with Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario standards as “most” of the audience at the venue is unlikely to be children.

Amended sports betting regulations, from the AGCO, took effect on Feb. 28. The AGCO’s new standards ban the use of athlete endorsers and celebrities, given their youth appeal, in sports betting advertising. Despite the updated standards, the AGCO’s stipulations are vague and insufficient.

The AGCO specifies that sports betting promotions should not appear in media or venues where most of the audience will likely be minors. This standard proves very accommodating to sportsbook companies. Broadcast sports events reach a considerable young audience even though minors are unlikely to represent a majority among various age demographics.

Picard: Are gambling ads harmful? You can bet on it

There’s also considerable potential for the spirit of the AGCO stipulations to be circumvented. Sports betting remains associated with athletes and celebrities due to sportsbook companies maintaining partnerships with sports leagues and broadcasters.

Let’s take this year’s Super Bowl.

AGCO’s guidelines will put an end (among Ontario viewers, at least) to advertising such as promotions for FanDuel’s Kick of Destiny, which featured former NFL player Rob Gronkowski alongside Carl Weathers and John Cena. The advertisements – billed this year as Kick of Destiny 2 – outrageously built suspense about whether Mr. Gronkowski, the former tight end, would successfully kick a field goal after missing last year.

Nevertheless, FanDuel – as the NFL’s official partner – can still associate its brand with key athletes (e.g., featuring coverage of Travis Kelce and speculating about how many touchdowns he will score during the game).

Ethical questions also emerge as the boundaries between marketing communication and journalism are increasingly blurred.

For Canadians, TSN broadcast the Super Bowl live. Coverage focused on Davis Sanchez shortly before kickoff. Mr. Sanchez was again at the pulpit during halftime. The former CFL and NFL player is a football analyst for TSN, but his insights are centred on sports betting implications. The broadcast segments reflect that FanDuel also has a partnership with TSN.

Will the broadcast segments with Mr. Sanchez remain allowable next NFL season under AGCO guidelines?

Advertising appears narrowly defined under AGCO guidelines, even though partnerships between sportsbook companies and broadcasters clearly serve a promotional purpose.

And advertising can still feature athletes and celebrities if they’re encouraging responsible gambling practices. While it’s unclear how “responsible” is being conceptualized, Mr. Sanchez’s broadcasts might continue if they’re salted with phrases such as “play within your limit” and “show good judgment.”

Ads for Sportsnet’s Hockey Central programming focused on the recent NHL trade deadline was presented by Bet365. The ads featured pictorials of broadcasters Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, as well as former NHL defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized sports betting in 2018. Canada followed, with the Senate passing Bill C-218 in 2021. The legislation left it to provincial and territorial governments to determine how single-event sports betting becomes regulated.

Gambling is classified as an addictive disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (like alcohol, cannabis, opioids and tobacco). Some bettors have uncontrollable desires to wager despite the negative consequences of their actions.

A function of advertising and promotion, meanwhile, is to contribute to the perception that gambling is socially acceptable and commonplace. The addictive potential of gambling is minimized, while the unfavourable odds that typically face bettors are unlikely to be top-of-mind when exposed to a plethora of sports betting promotions.

The amended AGCO regulations do nothing to address the volume of advertising, so expect a heavy dose of sports betting ads to continue during the NHL playoffs.

AGCO standards have been unsatisfactory to date, which furthers calls for federal legislation that more rigorously restricts sports betting promotion.

Interact with The Globe