Ontario online betting operators cannot advertise sign-up offers

Privately-run sportsbooks in Ontario’s regulated market will not be permitted to advertise online betting sign-up promotions, bonuses, or credits to consumers.

While companies will still be able to provide these offers, such as risk-free first bets or matching first deposits to players, they won’t be able to use them in any manner to promote sites, traditionally a key tactic employed by online sports betting sites to lure new customers.

The issue was one discussed at a webinar on March 7 co-hosted by IAB Canada and thinkTV on the topic of advertising and marketing around Canada’s new-look sports betting and iGaming business.

“You can put them on your website, you can offer them to players in your database, you just can’t be putting them in your in your advertising,” said Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns, per Sports Betting Dime. The prohibition will also apply to any online casinos opening in the province, with one set of regulatory standards covering both sports and casino gambling.

Jay Welbourn, manager of quality assurance and training for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of the Ontario (AGCO), noted that research has shown that such advertisements are associated with the greatest increases in gambling-related harms, “so it’s obvious why we would prohibit their use”.

“On the other hand, such offers are popular with players and they support the establishment of a successful, regulated market,” he added, per Play Ontario. “So, this standard aims to strike a balance. It does not prohibit the use of inducements, bonuses or credits, but it does prohibit the public advertising of them… Once players access an operator’s gaming site, bonus offers may be displayed. They may also be provided through direct marketing to those players who have consented to receive them.”

Welbourn added that the accountability for meeting advertising standards is held by the iGaming operators, and operators will also be responsible for ensuring that any third party they align with also meets the standards.

Burns underlined that it will be a collaborative, united effort.

“We have to realize that 30-plus companies will be entering the market in the next several months. The volume is going to go up… It’s incumbent on everybody to make sure that we play a role in adhering to the regulatory standards.”

Burns also highlighted that grey-market .net sites promoting free-to-play games will still be legal after the April 4 launch date, emphasizing that they are “vetted in consumer protection laws” which are beyond the domain of the AGCO. Industry advocates and regulators will continue to monitor the use of .net advertising. “If it continues, we at the CGA may request a repeal of the law if we think it’s necessary, if it’s being used as a way to circumvent the marketplace,” he added.

RELATED: Ontario bettors’ options broaden as more sportsbooks & suppliers receive AGCO registration

Ultimately, sportsbooks will have to focus on other methods of getting Ontario bettors to sign up. The market is likely to be product-led, with the competitiveness based on strong product differentiation rather than incentive offers or the size of bonuses.

For example, BetRivers Canada is offering the chance to free-play their sportsbook and casino with play-for-fun options. Other companies are relying on star power. PointsBet Canada has hired Canadian cultural icons the Trailer Park Boys to serve as their brand ambassadors, while BetMGM has signed up past and present hockey icons in the form of Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid.

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