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The Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association is calling on the province’s gambling regulator to ban all advertising for online gambling, pointing to evidence that shows the detrimental impact on vulnerable individuals and their families.

With NHL and NBA playoffs in full swing, Canadian advertising for online gambling, including TV ads with real-time odds for the games during which they air, have proliferated. Earlier this year, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) proposed new rules that would restrict celebrity athlete and influencer participation in such ads, though advertising would still be permitted.

Elham Bidgoli, director of communications for CMHA Ontario, said the AGCO’s proposal to ban celebrities from appearing in gambling ads is important, but it does not go far enough.

“We endorse that change, but we feel that it should really go further and ultimately we encourage the prohibiting of all advertising for online gaming,” she said.

Research shows that advertising and promotion of online gambling increases such activity, according to CMHA Ontario. The group says the risk of harm from gambling is higher for older adults, as well as people with a history of substance abuse, mental health issues and who live on a low income.

CMHA Ontario conducted a poll last year that suggested 35 per cent of Ontarians who gamble increased their gambling activity since 2020. The organization argues that it’s important to ensure that online gambling is not portrayed as a risk-free activity and that local supports are available to people at risk of harmful gambling.

New proposed standards would ban athletes from sports betting ads in Ontario

The AGCO said in a statement that the Crown corporation has received the Canadian Mental Health Association’s submission in response to its proposal to prohibit the use of athletes as well as celebrities from internet gambling advertising and marketing in Ontario.

The statement said it is engaging with a broad range of stakeholders and once the engagement period closes, it will review all submissions as it considers regulatory changes.

Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, which represents the industry, said that many of CMHA’s recommendations for mitigating the harms of gambling are already in place, including access to Connex Ontario for addictions and mental health treatment.

Mr. Burns said operators of online gambling companies are required by the government to monitor players and patterns that could lead to risk. For example, he said that if a player had been playing $20 a week, making three bets, but suddenly deposits $500 and makes 40 bets, that account would be flagged.

“Through various risk profiles there is a series of interventions that can lead up to locking one’s account,” he said.

Mr. Burns said the association is happy to work with AGCO to improve regulations and to ensure the industry is acting responsibly.

Sylvia Kairouz, a professor at Concordia University whose research includes gambling, addictive behaviour and online gambling technologies, said in an interview that she is “very much in favour” of a ban on gambling ads.

She said the industry’s ads limit the efficiency of prevention programs and public-awareness campaigns that warn of the dangers of online gambling.

“Advertisement are there to promote gambling, to promote more gambling among those who are gambling already,” she said. “The concern is for people who have limitations in controlling their gambling behaviours, this might become an incentive to gambling more excessively. And that could be detrimental.”

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