BetMGM made waves in March when it secured a partnership with Connor McDavid in a deal in which the two-time NHL MVP became the league’s first active player to serve as a brand ambassador for a major sports betting operator.
But when McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs next season, BetMGM will be unable to place a billboard outside Scotiabank Arena with an image of the forward complemented by a betting promotion. That is because rigorous standards from the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) prohibit online sportsbooks from offering any “public advertising of inducements, bonuses, and credits,” including targeted advertising and algorithmic-based commercials.
The standards run counter to numerous states in the U.S. where commercials featuring attractive promotions are ubiquitous. In crowded jurisdictions such as Ontario, with more than a dozen online sportsbooks, operators view the promos as a much-needed tool to engage with customers.
Still, Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns does not believe that a change in advertising standards is needed at this point.
“There are some challenges, for sure. There is concern on the cost of acquisition, there is concern around advertising restrictions and bonuses,” Burns told Sports Handle last week on the sidelines of the SBC Summit North America conference. “But there are still lots of ways to offer bonuses and incentives to customers.”
CGA pres/CEO Paul Burns on being inducted into SBC Sports Betting Hall of Fame: “My work to pursue the passage of the criminal code amendment to permit single event wagering in Canada will allow Canada’s gaming industry to grow and develop its own legal and regulated industry.”
— Mark Keast (@onthemark_22) July 14, 2022
Burns, the first Canadian to be inducted into the SBC Sports Betting Hall of Fame, made a July 14 appearance on a panel with several other inductees.
Ultimately, with the market just three months old, the AGCO wanted to “walk before they run” and see how the market reacts when assessing advertising standards on promotions, Burns noted.
Room for change down the road?
Dave Phillips, chief operating officer of the Ontario AGCO, appeared a day earlier on a separate Canadian gaming panel. The panel focused on the developments of the Canadian sports betting market since last year’s passage of bill C-218, as well as how licensing and regulatory standards have held up in the early stages of the market. There, Phillips disclosed that the AGCO is watching advertising trends across the market.
It is important to note the regulations could change over time, according to Burns. The market, after all, is still nascent following its highly anticipated debut in April. The sample size is too small at the moment, according to Burns, to make wholesale regulatory changes on advertising standards. The dynamics, however, could change once more participants enter the market.
“The standards are not written in stone, they don’t last forever,” Burns added.
Advertising and marketing materials that communicate gambling inducements, bonuses, and credits are prohibited, except on an operator’s gaming site and through direct advertising and marketing, after receiving active player consent.
At a minimum, operators that offer bonuses or promotional credits must provide customers with an opt-in process where the players can “actively consent” to receiving any marketing or advertising materials featuring the bonuses, according to AGCO standards. Furthermore, the customers must be offered a method to withdraw their consent at any time, the AGCO rules state.
As of Thursday, the Ontario market had more than 10 online sportsbooks, including heavy hitters BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel. Canadian media network and sports betting operator theScore, PointsBet, and BetRivers are also live in the nation’s largest province.
Initial handle reports
The southernmost areas of Ontario border New York, which leads the U.S. in handle this year with legal sports wagers in excess of $8.5 billion. In the Empire State, the New York State Gaming Commission releases weekly reports, which cover the handle and gross gaming revenue of the nine statewide sportsbooks. Further south, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement releases state sports betting reports each month. The frequency in reporting has left some industry experts befuddled as to why the Ontario AGCO has yet to issue an initial report on the performance of the private online sports betting market.
Burns answered the lingering questions at last week’s conference at The Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. For the first year of Ontario sports betting, it appears that the AGCO will issue revenue reports on a quarterly, rather than monthly, basis. When the market launched in April, two staples of the U.S. sports betting calendar, the NFL season and March Madness, had already concluded. By the latter portions of 2022, the industry will receive a better gauge of the direction of the market, Burns indicated.
While the AGCO has not released an exact date for the dissemination of the market’s first-quarter figures, a report is expected to be released to the public shortly.
“We’ll see a better picture this fall, because NFL season is coming, the World Cup coming, hockey will be back, and basketball will be back,” Burns said. “Those numbers going forward will be more telling to see what the splits are between casino and sports and what the handle is starting to look like in the market.”