The looming reform of online gambling advertising standards in Ontario could open the door for black market operators to profit, suggests Rivalry CEO and Co-Founder Steven Salz.
It was recently announced by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) that, from Feb. 24, 2024, registered Ontario igaming operators will be prohibited from using athletes, whether active or retired, in igaming marketing and advertising, except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices.
Furthermore, tougher restrictions will also be placed on the use of celebrities, influencers, role models, entertainers and cartoon figures.
Speaking to SBC, Salz admitted the rules are less likely to impact Rivalry compared to other operators on the market, despite the company’s use of influencers in its marketing.
“Rivalry’s success has been because our marketing with this demo is very entertainment driven and in many cases doesn’t actually talk about betting – in some markets it is, in others it isn’t,” Salz explained.
“In Ontario we do very little marketing that would conflict with these rules. It’s very much entertainment, grassroots stuff, hosting watch parties etc.”
But Salz outlined the difficulties that other operators will face once the changes are implemented.
He said: “It’s a bit of a shame. The challenge with this is for many operators the inability to be direct with marketing will make them unable to use these influencers at all. It’s very easy for us, we’ve built a Red Bull style entertainment driven brand which means we don’t talk about the betting action much, but there are others who are leveraging creators, actors and athletes in very classic ways because they do that style of marketing, with Jamie Foxx talking to you about betting.”
While the AGCO appears crystal clear in its desire to reform advertising standards and protect vulnerable members of society, there is still a degree of ambiguity over who can actually be used in adverts once the new regulations kick in.
As Salz discussed, it falls upon the regulator to outline just how far they will extend, and define who exactly is permissible or otherwise.
“A lot of it has to do with how you leverage the influencers, it’s unclear exactly how they are going to define influencers. Is a Twitch streamer with 50 average current viewers and 5,000 X [formerly Twitter] followers an influencer? It’s hard to say,” Salz said.
“If you use athletes they want you to do it with RG and safer gambling messaging, but ultimately they just don’t want you leveraging them from a direct marketing perspective. You can’t say ‘go bet on ABC for this event’ and be really specific with activation in betting marketing.”
Salz suggests that eliminating the option for regulated operators to continue leveraging influencers will hand black market operators free reign to step in and profit, as they are ultimately the ones that will not observe any rules around player protection or the province’s long-standing ban on betting inducements and promotions.
Salz further reflected that Rivalry had been promoting the benefits of Australian or UK style measures – such as a whistle-to-whistle ban on betting advertising during sports within 15 minutes of the beginning and end of a match – in its engagement with the AGCO.
“We’re kind of handing a chunk of the market on a silver platter to these guys,” he said. “By making the people you’re regulating unable to differentiate from each other because you’re cutting off every single way for them to market to customers. That’s really the downside of this.”