The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is urging the Ontario government to ban gambling advertising during sports broadcasts, saying that the type of ads that have blanketed the airwaves since private companies began offering online betting last year wouldn’t be permitted in other countries or for other activities that carry risk, such as alcohol consumption.
Toronto-based CAMH, Canada’s largest mental-health teaching hospital, made the recommendations in a submission to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which oversees gambling in the province. Last month, the AGCO proposed changes to the standards regulating ads for online gambling companies, suggesting the use of athletes as well as celebrities, entertainers, cartoon figures, role models or social-media influencers who appeal to minors could be barred.
Those proposals don’t go far enough for CAMH, which argues in its submission that “children and youth, as well as those already experiencing gambling problems, are especially susceptible” to the marketing, which has become a mainstay of TV, radio and digital broadcasts since the government opened the internet-based betting market last spring.
The ads “are normalizing sports gambling,” said Nigel Turner, an independent scientist with CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.
“They’re making sports gambling look fun and exciting, and a sure thing for winning, and big thrills. It can be big thrills, but they don’t go into the fact that losing is the norm.”
CAMH is proposing a “whistle-to-whistle” ban, which would prevent all commercial messages and betting-related editorial content from appearing on air beginning five minutes before a game until five minutes after it concludes. In addition to excluding conventional 30-second commercials, the ban would also eliminate logos and messages from betting companies during in-game action, such as those that are digitally superimposed on the ice surface or rink boards during National Hockey League games.
It would also bar betting-oriented discussions among commentators during games, which are now regular features of TV and radio sports broadcasts.
The British gambling industry instituted a voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban in 2019 for matches airing before 9 p.m., which it says reduced the number of betting ads viewed by minors by 97 per cent.
CAMH is also urging the AGCO to adopt guidelines for gambling ads that are similar to those for alcohol. Under federal regulations, ads for booze may not imply that social status or personal success could be achieved through its consumption, or refer to “the feeling and effect caused by alcohol consumption.” Many current betting ads reference the excitement or euphoria that a winning bet can bring.
The AGCO said in a statement to The Globe and Mail that it had received about 40 submissions on the proposals, which it floated after the commission “observed the increased use of celebrities and/or athletes for promotional and marketing activities, which has raised concerns regarding the potential harmful impact on minors.”
The Ontario proposals come as numerous governments are clamping down on advertising, or threatening to do so, in an effort to reduce the harms caused by the explosion of legalized gambling.
In the U.S., a collection of pro sports leagues, including the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS and MLB, as well as Fox Broadcasting and NBC Universal, announced a coalition last month to create voluntary restrictions on sports betting ads.
A ban on all TV, radio and billboard advertising for gambling will go into effect this summer in the Netherlands. Online ads will still be permitted, though marketers will have to demonstrate that at least 95 per cent of those receiving the messages are over 23 years old.
In Britain, the federal government issued a long-awaited white paper with extensive proposals to update its 2005 gambling law. The paper noted that approximately 300,000 Britons “are estimated to be experiencing ‘problem gambling,’ defined as gambling to a degree which compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits, and a further 1.8 million are identified as gambling at elevated levels of risk,” in the country of 67 million.
Data provided to The Globe by ConnexOntario, which operates helplines for gambling addiction, indicated there had been a rise in call volumes since the introduction of online gambling last year.
Bettors in Ontario placed $35.5-billion in wagers across 76 websites during the first year of legalized online gambling, according to figures released by iGaming Ontario last month, with betting companies earning $1.4-billion in revenue. (The province taxes that revenue at 20 per cent.) That figure includes all types of online bets, from casino games to sports wagering. iGaming Ontario did not respond to a request for information on how much was wagered specifically on sports.
There were 1.65 million active player accounts during the 12-month period, though only 1.01 million were active in the most recent fiscal quarter, ending March 31. Those figures don’t represent the total number of Ontarians engaged in online gambling, since individuals frequently set up accounts with more than one company.