Key takeaways from the CGA Player Wellbeing Symposium

CGA's Mark Harper reports from on the scene

It’s been a week since stakeholders from across the Canadian gaming industry convened to plan a new industry-wide approach to player protection. CGA board member Mark Harper wrote up some of the key takeaways from the event.

Formerly General Manager at for six years, Harper led a world-class team of digital media professionals, passionate about delivering best-in-class sports betting content to 2 million monthly users. Harper has over 25 years of experience in the digital media industry, with a proven track record of driving business growth, M&A, operational efficiency and product strategy.
More recently he has contributed to the development and advocacy for the Canadian gaming industry as a board member of the Canadian Gaming Association, working specifically with their Responsible Gaming Working Group.

The overriding takeaway from the recent Player Health and Wellbeing Symposium in Toronto presented by the Canadian Gaming Association was the low levels of trust and lack of information and awareness that consumers have for online sports betting and gaming industry. Naturally, this leaves a lot of work to be done by industry stakeholders to help with familiarity with the sector, since new regulations came into place in Ontario in April 2022.

The symposium was a big draw for a broad mix of gaming sector participants from research and education sectors, government regulators, online/technology players, land-based operators, and other gaming and sports betting sector stakeholders.

George Sweny, VP of Regulatory Affairs for Flutter and Chair of the CGA’s Responsible Gaming Working Group, laid out the CGA’s own RG project: a responsible gaming committee that focuses on a specific set of initiatives to help stakeholders stay at the forefront of player protection as the regulated gaming and betting sectors continue to evolve in Ontario. This committee is a clear indicator of the CGA’s drive to educate its members and other stakeholders, to advocate for the consumer, and to underpin collaboration for a more sustainable gaming sector across Canada.

There were also clear expectations from symposium attendees that the regulated gaming markets will continue to move into more Canadian provinces into 2024 and beyond, with Alberta expected to regulate next. The future success and sustainability of the Canadian gaming sector will be heavily linked to both the transparency and standardisation of gaming regulations across the provinces in the future.

Adding more fuel to the player protection debate, Tracy Parker, VP Policy Standards and the Responsible Gaming Council (RGC) led a collaborative workshop that helped symposium attendees offer feedback and insights around key topics. The workshop identified some clear priorities, namely that responsible gaming was a shared obligation amongst all stakeholders. There was a recognition that while gambling and betting can be a fun pastime, it can cause harm and that the industry had a duty of care to warn consumers of the risks involved, and to provide a range of supports and assistance to players who are experiencing harm.

The workshop attendees also discussed the gamification of gambling and sports betting through websites and apps. Attendees were concerned this type of online, gamified environment often attracts children and other consumers in a vulnerable state. The promotion and access to gambling and sports betting needed careful and considered research.

While the workshop also considered a comprehensive and continuous system for monitoring player behaviour to identify signs of potential gambling harm to be important, it was likely an unfeasible approach by all stakeholders. The gaming and sports betting operators were likely best placed to offer a timely invention and support for those players considered to be at risk.

Karin Schnarr, newly appointed CEO of the Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), talked passionately about her role in helping the gaming industry with a new ‘Standards in Advertising’ initiative (set for release in February 2024) which will better guide all stakeholders in the gaming and sports betting space. The consensus amongst symposium attendees is that the release of the new advertising standards guidelines will help eradicate ongoing ambiguities for legal, marketing, and compliance executives in the sector.

The AGCO’s mandate will focus on a series of processes and tactics that will shift the onus of responsibility away from the consumer over to the operators with the drive to help players with initiatives such as spend limit setting, pausing accounts, and self-exclusion programs. In urging a higher degree of understanding of player risk profiles, the AGCO suggested that the monitoring of player behaviours should be at the forefront of all RG strategies for operators and affiliates.

The central theme from the AGCO at the player protection symposium encouraged all stakeholders to plan for and design a set of RG strategies to prevent player harm from gambling and sports betting.

Ipsos Canada VP Research Sean Simpson shared some interesting findings from a November 2023 poll of 1,000 Ontario-based consumers. Of those polled, 38% were not aware that regulations for gaming and sports betting were in place in April 2022 when legislation dropped. There was also a lack of understanding around the regulation of advertising for gaming, with 64% either not knowing who regulated advertising, or believing that advertisers/media regulated advertising themselves.

When asked which sectors consumers trusted most, online sports betting and gaming ranked the lowest out of all with those polled, with the OLG and charitable bingo scoring highest for trust and awareness.

Strikingly, there was also confusion from those polled around unregulated, or black-market websites, with 34% suggesting they knew how to determine the difference between regulated and unregulated black-market sites. However, when asked in a follow-up question to state how they knew the difference, over half had no rationale for their reasoning.

The Ipsos results demonstrate some real concerns related to the unregulated black-market operators and the lack of awareness from a large percentage of Ontario-based consumers. The obvious issue here will be the lack of regard for player protections or responsible gaming policies for their players, amongst the unregulated/black-market operators.

Day 2 of the CGA symposium, saw a selection of operators and AGCO/IGO stakeholders state their concern for operators that continue to draw Canadian players into unregulated websites. AGCO COO Dave Phillips pointed out that Ontario’s reach to effectively police those unregulated operators targeting Ontario players is somewhat restricted when compared to European markets. However, moving into 2024, the AGCO is taking measures to identify and nullify those operators.

In closing out the symposium, it was reiterated that responsible gaming and player protection are shared responsibilities and a common theme across all industry stakeholders in the gaming and sports betting Canadian markets. The CGA’s mandate was to carry this initiative forward amongst its own members and other industry players using education, advocacy, and collaboration.

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