Changes coming to AGCO advertising standards? Here’s hoping for the middle ground

June 26, 2023 6:42 PM

Changes coming to AGCO advertising standards? Here’s hoping for the middle ground

  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
June 26, 2023 6:42 PM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

At the Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto earlier this month, Tom Mungham, CEO of Ontario’s igaming regulator the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), told a packed audience that a decision on proposed changes to the AGCO’s Advertising Standards regarding celebrities in igaming ads was coming down soon.

More specifically, Mungham said “weeks” as opposed to “months,” so that could mean an announcement before the upcoming Canada Day weekend.

The AGCO said in April that they would be engaging industry stakeholders on proposed changes to standards that would restrict athlete and celebrity participation in advertising for internet gambling, in order to minimize potential harm to youth and children.

Since then, Mungham said, there has been no shortage of engagement from the industry and media opinion expressed about the issue, from all over Canada. He added the AGCO received 38 responses to the April request for industry consultations, “from gaming and land-based operators and charitable gaming sector associations right through to the other side of the spectrum, which includes those in the health field, around responsible gambling. That opinion is varied and quite widespread.”

The AGCO also received an additional 10 responses from community groups and municipalities.

“I know you’re anxious to hear from the registrar on this issue,” Mungham told the crowd.

Yes, we are. As with any controversial issue, I am always seeking out the middle ground, the compromise.

There’s a robust regulated market in Ontario. Revenues are skyrocketing, with more than 45 licensed operators and upwards of 20 more in the funnel, apparently. The province has successfully rolled out a Top 5 jurisdiction in North America in terms of market size.

Two weeks ago, the AGCO was awarded the North American Gaming Regulators Association (NAGRA) Excellence in Gaming Regulation Award for its work developing and implementing the regulatory framework for the province’s open and competitive igaming market.

I am not of the opinion that the volume of igaming ads is over the top. For me, they’ve never taken away from the enjoyment of watching a game at all. The creative has been excellent; theScore Bet’s ads with Jon Lovitz, Russell Peters, and Patrick J. Adams, the Jamie Foxx BetMGM ads, and a string of great FanDuel ads stand out.

The impact that a Connor McDavid igaming ad has on the bulk of young people who gamble responsibly is highly debatable. The issue for me is not worrying about a Wayne Gretzky Zamboni race ad for BetMGM and its impact on the young or the vulnerable, but more about why 15-odd percent of gamblers in Ontario are still playing on illegal sites.

What is the industry doing to communicate with those people and get them to regulated sites with responsible-gambling guardrails built in? That should be more of a priority.

Others don’t agree. The Campaign to Ban Advertising for Gambling advocacy group is one of the organizations that reached out to AGCO and for them, it’s cut and dried: Put in the same controls we see for tobacco and cannabis advertising and ban it entirely.

“I think (banning advertising) has worked perfectly well for both of those products and we think it should work for gambling as well. Gambling is registered as an addiction by the American Psychiatric Association,” said John Sewell, the former mayor of Toronto, who is on the organizations’ steering committee. “It’s the only non-substance kind of addiction that they list. It’s clear it’s a very substantial problem. It’s just every time you’re trying to watch a game, you’re confronted with someone telling you to bet on something. We aren’t trying to ban gambling, just advertising.”

I hope for the middle ground. I hope for tweaks in the current standards, not an upturning of the whole apple cart. Ontario became one of the only jurisdictions in the world to place restrictions on operators offering bonuses and inducements. They can still post them on their websites or offer them via direct marketing for players who consent. That’s pretty prohibitive.

The compromise is to limit those celebrity ads, so they can be run after 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., not during peak viewing times for young people. More celebrity ads that push responsible-gambling messaging would also be good.

There is no issue with AGCO enforcement of the rules thus far, so operators who violate the amendments to the Advertising Standards should be hit with larger fines, which are compounded for every ensuing infraction.

What I’m hearing from people opposed to gambling advertising might have more to do with their dislike of legalized gambling overall and what the conservative Ford government in Ontario did. Once they get a full ban on celebrity ads, they’ll turn their guns on another part of the industry they don’t like. Where will it end?

A lot of eyes around the world are now on the quality job the AGCO did in regulating igaming. A lot of people inside and out are looking at the Ontario model. That’s a fact. We’re fortunate to have that.

Banning celebrity ads would be an overreach.