Ontario Stakeholders Hoping To Get Clarity From AGCO

Nearly a month after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario rolled out new advertising and marketing guidelines for sports betting that ban the use of athletes and celebrities, stakeholders in Canada still aren’t sure what it all means. What’s clear is that we won’t be seeing any more Zamboni races between hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and current star Connor McDavid.

“Where we find ourselves in a bit of conundrum is what the definition of an athlete of a celebrity is,” the Kindred Group’s Amanda Brewer told Steve McAllister on Gaming News Canada earlier this month. “No operator has any appetite to visit the early days of the market launch when the inducement language was clear as mud and operators were getting fined for transgressing those standards.”

Dating back to April 2022, when Ontario became the first Canadian province to launch single-game wagering, operators, suppliers, and vendors have struggled to interpret AGCO rules. PointsBet Canada and BetMGM were hit with fines a month into legal gambling in Ontario for breaking the rules around promotional play, which is banned in the province.

The new regulations go into effect in February.

No celebs won’t mean fewer ads

The latest issue in Ontario, according to Brewer, has more to do with the number of advertisements than who is in them.

“From an integrity point of view, this change makes sense, but it does nothing to address the volume of advertising” she said. “So if the conundrum is how many ads are being featured, and the issue last year seemed to be around the NHL season, that is an issue that needs to be taken up with the NHL and the broadcasters.”

Operators now have five months to understand just what the new AGCO landscape will look like. Besides the use of athletes and celebrities in general, operators cannot use personalities that appeal to minors or cartoon characters. It’s clear that the biggest names won’t be able to shill for sportsbooks, though they can be used in responsible gambling advertising and marketing. But what about the smaller names?

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Paul Burns, the president of the Canadian Gaming Association, is hoping for an opportunity to ask that question to the AGCO directly. Earlier this month, Burns said to Gaming News Canada, “What is the difference between a celebrity and a retired athlete? Or what metrics will be used to determine what appeals to minors? What will they use to decide those things or what will they want the industry to use? Because everyone just wants to comply. That’s the objective at the end of the day.”

Burns said that his group has written to the AGCO, requesting to be part of the process of developing the details of the new regulations.

“I think we’ve got an opportunity now to work together and figure out what the definitions are,” Burns said. “In the first point, the first line of the standard says, ‘primarily appeals to minors,’ but then two points down uses ‘very likely.’ Do those mean the same things anymore?”

When the AGCO released its new regulations, it said that it had consulted with a variety of stakeholders and that the goal is to “safeguard children and youth.” To achieve that, the AGCO going forward will “disallow the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”

The move is not unique to Ontario. In the U.S., Maine regulators will have similar regulations in place when the state launches later this year.

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