AGCO bans athletes in changes to Ontario igaming advertising rules

AGCO announces new rules on igaming advertisements
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After several months of speculation, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has finally confirmed a blanket ban on the use of athletes in igaming advertising and marketing.

The verdict is not an unexpected one after widespread calls for a toughening of the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming in order to protect society’s most vulnerable, including children.

Subsequently, there are also restrictions on the use of celebrities who ‘would likely be expected to appeal’ to minors, with the new rules coming into effect on Feb. 28 2024.

The new restrictions raise the previous threshold which merely prohibited the use of advertising and marketing content with a ‘primary appeal to minors’, while the updated guidance prohibits operators in the province from using athletes, whether active or retired, except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices.

The AGCO’s decision follows months of deliberation, with a ban on sports stars across online gambling ads formally proposed by the Crown agency in April before consultations with stakeholders including mental health and public health organizations, responsible gambling experts, gaming operators, broadcast and marketing groups, and the public.

“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” said Tom Mungham, Registrar and CEO, AGCO.

“We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”

The additions to the AGCO Standards for Internet Gaming are bolded below:

2.03 – Advertising, marketing materials and communications shall not target high-risk, underage or self-excluded persons to participate in lottery schemes, shall not include underage individuals, and shall not knowingly be communicated or sent to high-risk players. (Also applicable to Gaming-Related Suppliers)

Requirements – At a minimum, materials and communications shall not:

  1. Be based on themes, or use language, intended to appeal primarily to minors. 
  2. Appear on billboards or other outdoor displays that are directly adjacent to schools or other primarily youth-oriented locations.  
  3. Use or contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors. [This requirement has been changed]
  4. Use active or retired athletes, who have an agreement or arrangement made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator or gaming-related supplier, in advertising and marketing except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices. [This requirement is new]
  5. Use individuals who are, or appear to be, minors to promote gaming. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of all potentially high-risk persons, or otherwise extoll the virtues of gaming. 
  8. Entice or attract potentially high-risk players. Instead, measures shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players. [This requirement has been changed]
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