AGCO orders Ontario youth sports arena to remove betting ads

theScore Bet ads were visible at youth hockey centre

The Canlan Sports arena in Oakville, Ont. has removed adverts for theScore Bet sportsbook and online gaming platform after a review by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) found they violated the rule about not targeting minors.

The ads were removed late last month after a complaint was sent to the commission by the advocacy group Ban Ads for Gambling arguing that the ads’ presence at a facility predominantly used by children contravened the AGCO’s regulations. The branding appeared on locker room doors, on boards at the arena, underneath scoreboards and behind benches.

An AGCO review found that they compromised Section 2 of the registrar’s standards for gaming, which notes that advertising and marketing materials and communications “shall not target underage or self-excluded persons to participate in lottery schemes.” It also specifies that ads may not “appear in media and venues directed primarily to minors, or where most of the audience is reasonably expected to be minors.”

An AGCO spokesperson told Canadian Gaming Business by email that the commission, “is committed to protecting the public interest, including minimizing potential harm to minors or high-risk players.”

“In this instance, the concern is the venue where an ad appears,” said the AGCO. “We became aware of iGaming ads placed by the registered operator in the Canlan arena in Oakville. As outlined in Standard 2.03, there is a requirement that iGaming ads shall not appear in media or venues directed primarily to minors. Therefore, the AGCO contacted the operator that placed the ads to advise them of our concerns and the operator subsequently removed the ads.”

The AGCO investigation stemmed from a complaint lodged by Timothy Dewhirst, a father of a teenage hockey player from Guelph and an expert on policies around tobacco and cannabis advertising, which also falls under the AGCO’s remit. He contacted the AGCO after being shocked by the prominence of the theScore Bet ads at the Oakville venue.

“I’m dropping off my son and the first thing that catches my attention is the sports betting advertisements on the locker room door,” Dewhirst told The Record earlier this year. “And then the game starts, and these advertisements are also on the backdrop of the bench, on the boards, on the scoreboard. It was just everywhere, it was pervasive, and it’s at an under-14 hockey tournament. To me, it’s just clearly inappropriate to be targeting that kind of age group.”

The complaint prompted an AGCO review and the commission ordered the venue to remove the ads, which it did.

Former Olympian Brian Kidd, who co-founded Ban Ads for Gambling, said messaging around these instances should be clearer and that the AGCO should take a harder stance.

“The hope here is that after this, all of the local operators get the message that gambling ads are completely inappropriate in sports facilities where most of the participants are children,” Kidd said, per The Record.

The AGCO noted to Canadian Gaming Business that it has not made any further changes to standards or policies in relation to this incident and noted that, “in this instance, the actions the AGCO has taken have proven to be effective.”

Canadian senators ponder curbing sports betting ads

Sports betting advertising is a much-discussed topic in Canada right now.

The AGCO has amended its regulations already, with a change approved last summer and enforced earlier this year preventing gambling brands from using athletes in marketing except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices, as well as prohibiting the use of people or messaging that would be expected to appeal to minors.

However, a debate is ongoing about whether more should be done.

Bill S-269, the National Framework on Advertising for Sports Betting Act, was the subject of two recent Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications meetings. During those sessions, senators expressed remorse about the “barrage” of advertising that came along with regulated online gambling and questioned whether more can be done to curb it.

Bill S-269 would require the Minister of Canadian Heritage to develop a national framework for sports betting advertising based around “reasonable limits.” It would identify measures to regulate advertising, such as restricting the use of non-broadcast advertising or limiting its scope, as well as attempt to find ways to prevent and help both minors and problem gamblers from being impacted by sports betting advertising.

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