CCSA calls for national strategy to tackle gambling harms

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommends pan-Canadian approach

Experts at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) have urged the federal government to create a nationwide strategy for addressing potential gambling harms.

The CCSA argued in a new report, co-authored by Greo Evidence Insights, that the proliferation of legal gambling options in Ontario and the expected expansion of regulated gaming elsewhere in the country require a more effective preventative strategy.

“Canada is at a critical moment in how it manages gambling, said Chief Research Officer at Greo and Senior Research Associate at the CCSA Dr. Matthew Young.

While gambling regulation is handled by the provincial crown corporations, the CCSA report urges making player protection and risk prevention  a federal issue.

In particular, the CCSA is advocating for a national body to:

  • Set national standards which govern the promotion and provision of gambling products
  • Boost funding for harm prevention and reduction initiatives and research across crown provinces
  • Systematically monitor gambling harms to allow the social and economic costs to be tracked
  • Avoid conflicts of interest that may arise from provincial or industry-formed proposals or initiatives
  • Drive increased awareness and understanding of gambling harms among health and social service professionals and the public nationwide

“A national strategy or framework — similar to what we have for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis — is critical to manage the expected increase in gambling harm, especially among youth and other vulnerable people,” said Young.

The report also suggested that the strategy could go as far as enforcement, through measures such as coordinating efforts across provinces to block unlicensed operators or mandating safer gambling measures through federal regulation.

CCSA details key concerns

In the report, the CCSA outlined the basis for its calls for a national gambling harm prevention strategy.

The report notes that the impact on Canadians‘ health of legalising single-event sports betting and opening up Ontario’s market to commercial operators is “largely unknown as there is no national or provincial/territorial monitoring and surveillance of gambling-related harm.” But it asserts that early evidence suggests that increased participation in and visibility of online gaming and betting has been associated with increased gambling harms among both the general population and vulnerable demographics.

It also suggested that new or more popular types of wagering such as single-event sports betting and in-play betting are associated with greater risk of harm.

Pointing to Ontario’s lucrative market, the report asserts that the $35.5 billion wagered in the first year of regulated online gaming in the province “cannot be explained simply by a movement of people from illegal to legal online gambling.” The authors imply that alongside this channelisation, there has also been a significant uptake in betting by people who did not previously gamble.

The CCSA also contexualised the findings by noting that legal gambling is expanding while Canadians are “more vulnerable to gambling harm” due to the rising cost-of-living crisis and the prolonged after-effects of the pandemic.

It should be noted that the report was short on data or evidence to back up any of these stated concerns.

Issue of advertising top of mind again

A cornerstone of the report’s recommendation was the suggestion that Canadians are exposed far more frequently and widely to gambling advertising now than they were in the past.

The CCSA argued that high volumes of advertising and the increased dovetailing of sports and betting “normalise” gambling.

“We have seen a massive increase in gambling advertising and opportunities to gamble,” added Young. “We can no longer watch sports with our kids or go online without being subjected to an overwhelming amount of gambling advertising.”

In particular, the report highlighted concerns that gambling apps and sites operating in Ontario’s regulated commercial iGaming market are also visible in provinces where they do not have license to operate. That has also been cited as a problem from within the gaming industry and was a key topic of discussion at last month’s Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto.

The debate around advertising continues as senators debate the issue in parliament.

Bill S-269, the National Framework on Advertising for Sports Betting Actwas heard last month at two Standing Committee on Transport and Communications sessions. The bill, which had its second official Senate reading in May, would require the development of a national framework for sports betting advertising.

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