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Croupiers wait for clients on the opening day of the Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto, on June 20, 2023.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The federal government should develop and implement national rules to restrict gambling advertising and promotion as part of a public-health strategy, says Canada’s largest mental-health teaching hospital.

In a document titled Gambling Policy Framework, the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also calls on the Ontario government to limit overall gambling availability, introduce mandatory safeguards, enhance prevention and education efforts, and develop and implement a provincial gambling strategy, among other recommendations.

Overall, the province should adopt a public-health approach to gambling policy that shifts harm prevention focus from the people who gamble to the providers of gambling products, says the document, released Wednesday.

“A public-health approach puts at least some of the onus on the providers of the service,” said Dr. Nigel Turner, a scientist at CAMH, in an interview. But the current approach in Ontario “puts the onus of behaving on the player and de-emphasizes the role the industry has.”

Gambling includes everything from lottery tickets, casino table games, bingo and sports betting.

With 32 per cent of high school students in Ontario reporting gambling at least once in the past year, several CAMH’s recommendations focus on stronger protections for young people when it comes to advertising and promotion.

Gambling advertising should not appear in media and venues where minors can be expected to make up more than 25 per cent of the audience, according to CAMH.

Nor should gambling advertising attempt to influence non-gamblers of any age to gamble, or refer to the feeling or effect caused by gambling, the document says.

The call for the federal government to create rules for gambling advertising was prompted by what Dr. Turner calls the “inundation” of sports gambling advertising that followed in the wake of single-game sports gambling becoming legal in Canada in 2021.

After that change, Ontario opened its online sports betting market to more than two dozen third-party operators. Competition among them has prompted a barrage of advertisements.

“If people really want this service of online gambling, it shouldn’t actually need to advertise very much anyway. If this is something people really want, they’ll find it,” Dr. Turner said.

As of last month, no current or former athletes, celebrities and others who would “likely be expected to appeal to minors” are allowed to appear in commercials promoting online gambling, according to new rules introduced by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

But more needs to be done to restrict gambling advertising, Dr. Turner said.

Megha Vatsya, a therapist with CAMH’s problem gambling and technology use treatment service, says many minors are now seeking help for issues related to sports gambling.

“We are seeing a lot of young folks, in their 20s and 30s in particular, who are engaging in sports betting. But we’re also seeing people seeking out support who are even younger than that, youth who are getting access despite it not being legal,” she said.

Bruce Kidd, a professor emeritus of sport and public policy at the University of Toronto, and the founder of a campaign to ban all sports betting advertising in Canada, says the proliferation of sports gambling ads normalize the activity and hurts sports by doing so.

“It makes it a normal, accepted, everyday part of sport. it legitimizes it,” he said. “Once you’re promoting betting, you’re openly endorsing a whole change in the nature of sport, in a way that worldwide has been shown to be harmful.”

Mr. Kidd said he “fully supports” a public-health approach to gambling.

“There’s no question about the harm that it creates, and that there needs to be a public-health approach to this.”

Paul Burns, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Gaming Association, which represents many gambling operators in Canada, says the gaming industry wants to find the “most effective tools and solutions” to protect players.

“As an industry … we work with government regulators and the research community because we believe and we understand the shared responsibility we have to protect players,” he said.

The new ban on athletes and celebrities in ads is an example of the industry making changes to protect people who gamble, Mr. Burns said.

“The AGCO has from the outset said, ‘We’ll look at our standards on a continual basis and based on evidence and research we will take action as we think we need to,’ and they did.”

But Dr. Turner says the ban doesn’t go far enough: “They left the loophole in there, which was that celebrities could be in ads where they’re promoting responsible gaming.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrected described Megha Vatsya as head of CAMH’s problem gambling and technology use treatment service. Vatsya is a therapist with CAMH.

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