Promotion of sportsbooks by professional athletes, celebrities and cartoon characters will no longer be part of the betting landscape in Ontario after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario released revised rules on Tuesday.
Among the existing promotions involving big-name athletes in Ontario are BetMGM‘s deals with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oiler Connor McDavid, and Bet99’s deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. McDavid and Matthews are among only a handful of active professional athletes in North America who have deals to promote sportsbooks.
The new rules go into effect Feb. 28, 2024, as the result of AGCO meetings with stakeholders who included many in the responsible gambling space, according to an AGCO press release. An exception is made for use of athletes to promote responsible gambling practices.
“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” AGCO Registrar and CEO Tom Mungham said. “We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”
Regulators in Maine, where sports betting has been legalized but not yet begun, have plans for a similar prohibition.
Federal ad legislation in play, as well
In April, the AGCO began consulting with a “broad range of stakeholders including mental health and public health organizations, responsible gambling experts, gaming operators, broadcast and marketing groups, and the public” regarding advertising. The AGCO said it was encouraged by them to do more to “safeguard children and youth.”
On April 4, 2022, Ontario was the first Canadian province to go live with commercial sports betting. Since the federal government in Canada decriminalized single-game wagering in 2021, several other provinces including Alberta have also begun offering single-event betting. Ontario, in which most major U.S. operators are active, remains the only province with robust competition.
According to the CBC, Canadian Sen. Marty Deacon earlier this summer proposed a nationwide ban on use of athletes and celebrities in betting advertising. Introduced in June, the bill has been stalled after first reading. In the U.S., Rep. Paul Tonko proposed a blanket ban on wagering advertising, and that bill is also stalled.
In Ontario, besides explicitly banning athletes — current or retired — from promoting wagering companies, the rules prohibit use in ads of anyone or anything that “would likely be expected to appeal to minors.”