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When the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced last summer it would institute new advertising standards for online gambling to protect minors, headlines promised that the flood of sportsbook and casino ads featuring celebrities and athletes, which was irritating TV viewers, would quickly dry up.

But the fine print written into the new regulations, which were clarified by the AGCO earlier this month before going into effect on Wednesday, suggests viewers are still likely to see Jamie Foxx shilling for BetMGM, Auston Matthews as a brand ambassador for Bet99, and former NHLer Kevin Bieksa standing on top of the Sports Interaction logo while betting lines flash across the screen during Sportsnet’s weekly broadcasts before Hockey Night in Canada.

Even Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid, who have spent the past year chirping each other in ads for BetMGM, might not go away entirely.

Meanwhile, some in the industry believe the changes may not have even been necessary.

The new ad standards stem from an announcement made by the AGCO last April that, one year into regulated gaming in Ontario, the agency was concerned about marketing that might be enticing those under the legal gaming age of 19. The commission was considering a ban on the use of athletes, celebrities, cartoon figures, and influencers who appealed to minors.

After several months of consultation with industry players and others, including mental-health professionals, the commission announced the changes last August with a blog post on its site that read: “AGCO to ban athletes in Ontario’s igaming advertising to protect minors.”

In fact, the new standards were not nearly that black and white.

The new restrictions do prevent active or retired athletes from appearing in most conventional ads – but the AGCO made an exception for what is known as “responsible gambling” promotional spots, in which sportsbooks or casino operators urge users to play within their limits. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, for example, has been running a TV spot featuring Curtis Joseph in support of the company’s PlaySmart responsible gambling tools, in which the narrator lauds the former Toronto Maple Leaf goalie for the way he “always played prepared.”

BetMGM could choose to redeploy Gretzky and McDavid as ambassadors for their responsible gambling efforts. (A spokesperson for the company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.) Bet99 could also use Matthews or Georges St-Pierre, another ambassador, for similar initiatives. (A spokesperson for that company did not respond to requests for comment.)

And the AGCO also signalled on Tuesday that sportsbooks may continue to use current or former athletes in certain kinds of other promotional efforts that have nothing to do with responsible gambling.

Last April, shortly before the AGCO announced it was looking to change its ad standards, FanDuel and Bell Media’s TSN struck a deal that saw the sportsbook become the presenting sponsor of the network’s afternoon drive-time radio and TV program Overdrive. That program is co-hosted by Jeff O’Neill, who played 11 seasons in the NHL.

A spokesperson for TSN, which is owned by Bell Media, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Through a spokesperson, FanDuel declined to comment.

Sportsnet also has a commercial deal with a sportsbook for editorial coverage. Under one of those arrangements, Sports Interaction currently sponsors a segment on Hockey Central Saturday, the half-hour preview show that airs before Hockey Night in Canada, in which the former pro Bieksa, who played 13 seasons in the NHL, offers a preview of a game scheduled for that night while he is surrounded by the sportsbook’s logo, and live betting odds provided by the sportsbook appear on the screen.

Sportsnet spokesperson Jason Jackson said in an e-mail that the network “will continue to follow the rules and standards set by iGaming Ontario and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.”

In fact, the AGCO told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that those sorts of arrangements would remain acceptable. “The updated Standards are not intending to capture athletes who are being used in broadcasts or podcasts for editorial content or commentary … or sports betting commentary, provided they are not doing so pursuant to an agreement with a [sportsbook] operator,” said the e-mail, from Raymond Kahnert, a senior communications adviser with the AGCO.

“The Standards do not prohibit operators from sponsoring segments in broadcast programming.”

The new regulations do preclude casinos or sportsbooks from using “cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors” in advertising.

But that language, and its focus on the likelihood of an individual’s appeal to the younger demographic, offers enough wiggle room that even advocates for greater restrictions on advertising acknowledge will likely help protect minors.

“Anything could possibly appeal to some children,” said Nigel Turner, an independent scientist with the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “But someone like Jamie Foxx – I don’t know what his following is among youth, but he is primarily a comedian that is followed by adults.”

As the changes come into force, some segments of the industry are not even convinced they are solving an actual problem that exists.

“We don’t think there was an issue that needed to be addressed,” said Paul Burns, the president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, a trade group which represents licensed operators. Burns suggests that members of the public who objected to the ads were primarily reacting to the volume of TV spots, which he says have dropped off since the initial burst of activity, when dozens of operators were trying to grab market share out of the gate.

“We’ve seen, in Hockey Night in Canada and major sports, probably a decline of up to 30 per cent,” in the number of online gambling ads from the fall of 2022 to the fall of 2023, he said.

That data could not be immediately confirmed.

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