Ontario Senator proposes new national framework on sports betting advertising in Canada

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Canada could be making critical changes to its sports betting advertising rules if Senator Marty Deacon’s latest bill on the issue is able to make any significant strides.

Deacon, Independent Senator for Ontario, introduced Bill S-269 – an act ‘respecting a national framework on advertising for sports betting’ – at Parliament Hill on Tuesday, outlining her reasons for doing so in a passionate rally against what she perceives to be an important issue in Canadian society – the volume and nature of sports betting advertisements.

Addressing the floor, Deacon said: “The reality is you cannot sit down in this country to enjoy a sport without being exposed to a barrage of such advertising. These ads, though, are much more than just annoying, and they can lead to addictions and other harms, through gambling problems.”

In Deacon’s view, the government should form a greater alliance with provinces and industry stakeholders to set guidelines and regulate sports betting ads in Canada.

The Senator referenced this year’s NHL play-offs which saw one game in particular – the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Florida Panthers – include nearly nine minutes of sports betting ads within its broadcast.

The situation is “getting out of hand”, remarked Deacon.

She added: “The truth of the matter is, we do have national advertising standards on tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis – so it makes little sense to me that sports betting would be exempt from this.

“I also think it would be in the interest of the industry to have one set of rules to abide by nationally.”

Deacon’s bill makes a number of suggestions, including a directive to the Minister of Canadian Heritage – Pablo Rodriguez – to develop a national framework on advertising for sports betting, which must:

  • identify measures to regulate the advertising of game sports betting in Canada, such as limiting or banning the participation of celebrity athletes, restricting the use of non-broadcast advertising, or by limiting the number, scope or location of such advertisements;
  • identify measures to promote research and intergovernmental information sharing in relation to the prevention and diagnosis of minors involved in problematic gambling activities and support measures for those who are impacted by it; and
  • set out national standards for the prevention and diagnosis of problematic gambling and addiction and for support measures for those who are impacted by this; and
  • task the CRTC with reviewing its regulations and policies to assess their adequacy and effectiveness in reducing the incidence of harms resulting from the proliferation of advertising and sport event betting.

Deacon further implored the Minister to consult with relevant figures in the industry; as well as representatives of the provincial and territorial governments, gaming regulators, advertisers and indigenous communities and organizations, the Ministers of Industry, Justice, Health, Employment and Social Development and Indigenous Services should be engaged on the matter, says Deacon.

Another directive is that, one year after the day on which the proposed act comes into force, the Minister must prepare a report setting out both the national framework for the regulation of advertising of sports betting and a strategy for implementing the national framework.

The bill is still in its early infancy, and there is no guarantee that Deacon’s suggestions will be made into law, but it’s just another example of a political figure waging a war on sports betting ads.

Other recent examples in Canada include the Ontario Liberal Party, fronted by John Fraser, MPP for Ottawa South, tabling a motion in the Legislature earlier this month calling for stricter regulation of online sports betting and gambling advertisements.

Karl Subban, father of the former ice hockey star PK Subban, has also vocalized his opposition to the level of sports betting advertisements in Canada, calling for a limit on the volume of ads due to the powerful and influential nature of athletes, actors and actresses featured.

Meanwhile, in the US, a number of major sports leagues and media groups – including the NFL, MLB and FOXteamed up in April to form the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising.

Evidently, political and prominent figures in the space are starting to harmonize their beliefs on the matter, with a particular focus on the protection of vulnerable groups in society, namely children.

But whether these outcries and bills can be converted to cold, hard legislation, remains to be seen.

Certainly, many eyes are on the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the agency prepares to make a final decision on a proposal to ban the use of athletes, celebrities and entertainers in gaming advertising and marketing, following consultations with relevant stakeholders.

But Deacon, aware of the difficulties of changing laws, is just hopeful for any show of support from the federal government in her bid to help control what she perceives as the dangers of sports betting ads.

She said: “The government can do whatever they like on whatever day they wish with this.

“If the executive of government phoned us up tomorrow and said we have a slightly better bill, I would be as happy as can be.”

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