Ontario’s legalization of private online gaming last year has sent the Canadian gaming industry into the stratosphere. With global operators swarming to Canada’s most populous province, an already common pastime has come into the fray even more in the months since.
But whilst players in the province, and indeed nationwide, are wagering and playing games at a high rate, the public’s perception of gambling in Canada is not where some may expect.
With a Fifth Estate broadcast in January placing gambling advertising under the spotlight and economic headwinds biting at the pursestrings of many Canadians, public perception of the sector is at a low ebb.
The latter point, the economic downturn, was key for Ipsos’ SVP Scott Morasch, who explained that rising inflation and interest rates may be deterring some members of the public from gambling.
Explaining from an Ipsos survey titled ‘Canadian Public Opinions On Gambling’, Morasch noted that occasional bettors are now less likely to participate in gambling, whilst those more active players are continuing to wager.
He explained: “The biggest trend that we’ve noticed with demand for gambling and betting and playing the lottery, is it’s the less committed player groups that have tended to fall out of the mix.
“Those are the people where we’ve seen losses in player populations with gambling, dating back to the onset of COVID. But we also know that those types of gamblers are not a significant revenue stream for betting companies or casinos.
“So while we’ve seen some contraction in the number of gamblers in the population, you wouldn’t expect to see it that significantly in terms of gambling sales or revenue.”
But in times of economic uncertainty, people often search for ways of escaping the challenges of real life, which is where betting and wagering can come into play.
Whilst Morasch was eager to stress the importance of responsible gambling in any messaging of gambling as a form of escapism, he did detail that gambling can be a way for people of legal age to find simple pleasures in a time of hardship.
“That’s probably one of the myriad of reasons that people have for gambling,” he said. “It’s not the only one but it’s something that’s become easier and easier over time.
“I do think that it’s a rationale for some people. But I also think it’s become so much more convenient for lots of people to just load up an app or do some quick betting on their computer at home.”
Worrying marketing reception
Ipsos research found that bettors in Canada are becoming worried about the amount of gambling and the amount of advertising there is across the country.
A total of 49% of respondents detailed that they at least somewhat agree with the statement ‘we need more controls on how much gambling is available in Canada; it’s getting out of hand,’ and there has been an 820% increase in negative social media discourse when it comes to gambling advertising.
This is something that operators must address, Morasch asserted, as it can negatively impact brand image and could deter certain Canadians from gambling altogether.
“What we’re seeing initially is the antagonism surrounding advertising, from just the sheer volume that’s been put out there. In the polls that we did recently, we found almost half of Canadians thought that the amount of advertising for gambling should be cut back, that they thought it was excessive.”
Citing the revelation that around two-thirds of Canadians think there should be limits on advertising, Ipsos’ SVP added: “I think there is some early anxiety going on in Canada surrounding that volume. Maybe someday will come when people just stop noticing it so much, or maybe it will be regulated or maybe people will just get over it and get used to it. Either way, we think it’s an important issue for companies to keep track of and continue monitoring it.”
Of course, Canadians were not ‘bombarded’ with advertising from gambling operators apart from the provincial lotteries before last April, but Morasch added some flesh on the bones of the public’s grievances with advertising.
Worryingly for operators, Ipsos’ social media analysis found that the public has grown increasingly critical of advertising in Ontario, with people posting on social media using terms such as ‘relentless’, ‘bad’ and ‘cringeworthy’.
“The social media analysis that we did, as well as the polling, picked up a sense of advertising quality issues or, rather, does the market even enjoy seeing some of the ads that have been out there? In the polling, we had around 40% of Canadians who thought the ads weren’t likable and that they didn’t enjoy watching or seeing the advertising, which is, again, a good metric to keep an eye on in the future, as advertising becomes more prevalent.”
COVID and gambling
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an irreversible impact on the gambling industry globally, not just across Canada, but the impact across the nation cannot be understated.
Before the pandemic, around 30-40% of adults would attend a casino at least once per year, however, this figure has dropped down to a national average of 26%.
Across the Atlantic provinces, this figure is as low as 19%, with the highest being in Alberta at 32%.
Morasch has several ideas of why this could be the case, one being the changing habits of people towards online gambling throughout the pandemic.
However, he explained, it’s a more nuanced situation than just a shift to online gaming: “I think that’s definitely one of the possible reasons, there are probably more reasons than that.
“Online has not been a direct one-to-one substitute for in-person gambling. At least, we haven’t seen evidence of that yet. What we have seen and heard from other sources that we’ve collected is there are still lingering concerns over health and safety potentially in casinos.
“A lot of people like to think that COVID is over, but at least in Canada, on our mainstream news broadcasts, everyone hears about the next strain of COVID, and how much more contagious it is, and influenza and respiratory illness and things like that. So I think for a chunk of people, that is still a bit of a concern.”
And the changing economic landscape cannot be ruled out as a driving factor; inflation is currently at 6.3% and peaked at 8.1% last June, hampering the power of consumers.
Morasch said: “The economy has really caused people to change some of their prior behaviors, it’s really caused people to reevaluate what they’re looking for in a night out; and from an entertainment experience; And what is it that a casino visit would actually offer people”
What will the future look like?
A big question on people’s lips is whether the impact of Ontario’s market opening would have an impact on the other nine provinces to move in a similar direction.
The recent results released from iGO demonstrate that there is enormous potential in Ontario in terms of revenue, but Morasch believes it is ‘too early’ to tell if there are prying eyes across the provincial borders.
Ipsos’ SVP said: “The public is reactionary to what they’re seeing in the market, and what they’re seeing is lots of advertising. And they’re also then starting to see various news broadcasts and publications talking about the negativity toward advertising, so this is now what the public is being exposed to. I think it’s too early to say if there’s a positive impact on perception because right now, it’s starting to lean negative.
Whilst this negativity is beginning to creep in, Morasch believes there is a huge opportunity for the industry to tell the public about the good that can be done by utilizing gaming tax revenue.
Of the Ipsos research, 44% were not aware of the support for good causes that the gambling industry brings, offering an opportunity to educate players.
He concluded: “But I still think what’s missing is the positive impact that could come from the public being fully informed about the legally regulated model, and the benefit for the province of Ontario.
“The fact is that these private betting companies are no longer just taking revenue outside the province and outside the country, but there is money being put back into the province. I think that’s maybe still the missing piece of the puzzle. And maybe that will come with time. We just don’t know yet.”