The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has moved the deadline on industry stakeholder consultation of proposed changes to internet-gaming advertising to this Monday. The deadline was originally May 8.
There’s been a lot of chatter of late around the issue of igaming advertising in the regulated Ontario market, both in terms of the volume of ads and the composition of the ads themselves.
The AGCO is proposing a change to internet-gambling advertising standards, proposing to prohibit the use of athletes and celebrities in advertising and marketing in Ontario. The objective, according to the AGCO, is to minimize potential harm to youth and the vulnerable. Industry stakeholders are invited to register for the AGCO’s engagement portal to share their thoughts and opinions on the proposed changes.
“The Responsible Gambling Council is pleased to see the AGCO conducting a review of the internet-gambling advertising and marketing standards, including the impact of athlete and celebrity endorsements on youth,” said Shelley White, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council. “Gambling participation typically increases during adolescence and peaks in young adulthood, when the risk for gambling harm is also amplified. RGC believes that along with a review of the current gambling-advertising standards, operator advertising should be balanced with prevention education targeted at vulnerable populations, such as youth and young adults, to raise awareness surrounding the risks of gambling and how to access support.”
The AGCO changes would mean the end of the Jamie Foxx BetMGM ads, the Auston Matthews advertisements for Bet99, the ads from theScore Bet that feature Jon Lovitz, Russell Peters, and Patrick J. Adams, and “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul ads for Bet365, for example.
Reactions to the AGCO proposal vary, which likely explains the decision to move back the consultation deadline a week.
“It really took me by surprise to hear the announcement from the AGCO,” said Aly Lalani, head of marketing for BetRegal. “Firstly, helping to prevent marketing messages getting into the ears of vulnerable people should always be the focus of the AGCO, so I think the motivation comes from a logical place. It just seems like it’s painting with a really wide brush. Operators use celebrity ambassadors to help gain a level of credibility with intended audiences. I don’t think a reasonable solution is to simply ban all use of brand ambassadors, influencers. I think the focus should be on making sure that the messages from celebrities/players/influencers are only reaching the eyes and ears of the intended audience. Maybe that’s limiting the marketing channels they can appear in or moderating what the ambassadors can communicate via certain marketing channels.
“There’s significant value in evaluating this topic in a reasonable, non-reactive, data-based methodology before deriving conclusions. I’m particularly encouraged by the fact that the AGCO seems to want to have a discussion on the topic before acting, a discussion that presumably will include points of view from all stakeholders, including operators.”
There are plenty of calls to shut down igaming advertising altogether. NDP MP Brian Masse wants to see a ban on ads featuring NHL stars and other sports celebrities. The Campaign to Ban Advertising for Gambling wants the ads banned completely, just as tobacco and cannabis ads are.
Marketing experts see both sides. Professor David Soberman, Canadian National Chair in Strategic Marketing, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, said significant research shows that adolescents do not have sufficiently developed judgment to sort good from bad. The issue with active celebrities like Matthews and Connor McDavid promoting gambling is that they have significant appeal to younger people. That’s why you don’t see them in beer ads, for example.
However, Soberman doesn’t see the AGCO proposed changes as a first step to a ban on gambling advertising.
“I doubt it, but I think it will become more regulated,” he said. “I think as a society we need to be careful with the marketing of things that can do harm when youths are affected by the marketing activity. I would say [there has been too much igaming advertising overall]. But it’s a growth industry, because it was banned in much of Canada until last year. Over time, we’ll see a flattening out of the level of gaming advertising, no matter what the gaming companies say about current celebrities and athlete appeal to underage people, and I think that should be reduced [or eliminated]. The real problem is that our laws haven’t kept up with the risks posed by gaming marketing.”