With less than a month until the launch of Ontario‘s regulated iGaming market, regulators held a special webinar Monday to clarify their expectations regarding advertising and marketing standards.
The 90-minute webinar was conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada (IAB) and thinkTV, a marketing and research association. Speakers included Paul Burns from the Canadian Gaming Association, a national trade association that represents leading gaming operators and suppliers, and representatives from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and iGaming Ontario (iGO), the two government entities responsible for regulating iGaming in the province.
The general takeaway from the webinar, which had over 600 attendees, is that the onus is on private operators to interpret and use their judgment regarding AGCO advertising guidelines. They can consult iGO/AGCO to clarify standards, but regulators don’t approve or validate any advertising/marketing materials before they go live. The AGCO will follow up with operators, however, if the commission has concerns.
Advertising and marketing guidelines for all operators wanting to do business in Ontario are available on the AGCO’s website under the responsible gaming subsection.
“Our job isn’t to find loopholes and to close the loopholes — our job is to communicate intent and objectives and for the industry to act in a compliant way,” said Jay Welbourn, senior manager, technology and compliance at the AGCO. “It’s not our objective at all to become an approval body for all the advertisements.”
The advertising standards spell out that minors, self-excluded persons, or high-risk players should not be targeted. A responsible gaming message must be included in all advertising, and the iGO logo needs to be on all operator websites, advertising channels, and social media. Operators can’t use public advertising to promote bonuses, and a level of consent will be needed from players in order to for them to receive deposit, signup, or bonus offer information.
Key advertising requirements
The commission’s website spells out minimum standards. Among them, materials and communications shall not:
- Appear on billboards or other outdoor displays that are directly adjacent to schools or other primarily youth-oriented locations.
- Contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, and/or celebrity/entertainer endorsers whose primary appeal is to minors.
- Use individuals who are, or appear to be, minors to promote gaming.
- Appear in media and venues, including on websites, and in digital or online media, directed primarily to minors, or where most of the audience is reasonably expected to be minors.
- Exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of all potentially high-risk persons, or otherwise extoll the virtues of gaming.
- Entice or attract potentially high-risk players. Instead, precautions shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players.
- Encourage play as a means of recovering past gaming or other financial losses.
- Be designed so as to make false promises or present winning as the probable outcome.
.Net advertising still legal
Despite the launch of a regulated market in Ontario expected to slowly abolish gray markets in the province, .net advertising will still be legal under the Canadian Consumer Protection Act (Criminal Code). These laws are outside of the jurisdiction of the AGCO and iGO and are deeply embedded in Canada’s federal consumer protection laws.
“If [gray market advertising] continues, we may request to repeal the law if we think it’s necessary. If it’s being used to circumvent the marketplace, we’ll continue to monitor that issue,” Burns said.
Burns noted that .net advertising is used as an acquisitions tool to get people to flock to paid sites. All parties in the webinar agreed they’d be watching this issue this closely over the coming months.
When gambling “goes live” April 4th 🇨🇦 will still see “.net” advertising on TV for brands that have yet to be regulated
The grey market will not disappear immediately but rather over time
— Adam Seaborn (@AHBSeaborn) March 7, 2022
Overstimulation of advertising
A major topic during the webinar’s question-and-answer period was the possibility of Ontario consumers being bombarded with too many sports betting ads.
No current rules limit the volume of sports betting advertising. Individual broadcasters, especially in the cable TV realm, have a role to play and will ultimately determine how many gambling ads are aired. In advance of over 30 operators possibly hitting the regulated market on or around April 4, the volume of sports betting advertisements has begun increasing.
BetRivers and PointsBet are already running ads across cable networks in the province. BetRivers is using former TSN Sportscentre broadcaster Dan O’ Toole as its frontman, while PointsBet recently debuted a commercial with its newest partner, the Trailer Park Boys.
🥌✨Flat Bowling Balls with Handles ✨ 🥌
The @TrailerParkBoys try curling with a little help from @TeamKevinKoe & @EinarsonTeam #ThisIsHowWePlaySport pic.twitter.com/NaR1KwPOmm
— PointsBet Canada (@PointsBetCanada) March 5, 2022
Gray-market sportsbooks Bet99, Bet365, and others have been running ads across cable TV networks and in other media for years in Ontario and Canada.
“Volume can be an issue,” AGCO’s Welbourn noted. “We understand that new entrants to the market need advertising, need to get their name out there. There’s a real tension here. We need to think about the broader, public perception, and making sure we’re staying within that kind of acceptable range with brand advertising.”
Additionally, iGO has provisions in its operating agreement that allows it to limit advertising in a quick manner. The agency and thinkTV plan to monitor the increase in sports ads closely.
“I can say that we’re working towards figuring out how we manage this space, and I hope that we’ll have something to tell you very shortly,” said Catherine MacLeod, president and CEO of thinkTV Canada. “Unfortunately, it’s not today. We are very aware of this. We are working with Responsible Gaming and AGCO and iGO to come to the right spot on this. It’s about our viewers, it’s about reducing the harm.”
As of Tuesday morning, the AGCO has confirmed issuing six Ontario iGaming licenses, to Annexio Limited (lottogo.ca), NSUS Limited (wsop.ca), PointsBet Canada, theScore Bet, Rivalry Corp., and VHL Limited (888.ca). Many more sportsbooks, such as FansUnite, have also announced they have license approvals or should receive official licenses shortly prior to the April 4 launch.