AGCO Fines BetMGM, PointsBet Amid Murky Rule Guidance; Industry Comments

Written By Robyn McNeil on May 5, 2022
A murky and eerie glimpse into a kelp forest

Late Tuesday, AGCO announced fines levied against BetMGM Canada ($48,000) and PointsBet Canada ($30,000) for alleged advertising infractions.

Mistakes, it seems, were made.

However, despite setting strict advertising rules for Ontario’s newly wide-open online casino, poker and sports betting market, interpretations of those rules fall to operators.

The rules make it quite clear that inducements, bonuses and credits in public-facing advertising are a no-no. But, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s regulations allow a trial and error approach.

Until now, how AGCO would judge the interpretations was unknown. More of a mystery? How the provincial regulator would enforce advertising infractions.

Today, the mystery’s solved.

Tweets, posters push regulatory boundaries, end in fines

According to AGCO, BetMGM Canada and PointsBet Canada ran afoul of standard 2.05 of the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming.

Rule 2.05 prohibits advertising and marketing from communicating “gambling inducements, bonuses and credits.” Exceptions permitted include incentives on a licensed operator’s platform and those received via direct advertising and marketing with previous player consent.

Specifically, AGCO fined BetMGM for allegedly side-stepping rule 2.05 with improper inducements:

  1. A “$250K Launch Party” advertisement, including a contest offer where the first-place winner gets $100K in casino bonus. The post was initially tweeted on April 4, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 11, 2022.
  2. A “Bellagio” advertisement, including an offer of a $10 casino bonus in return for a $25 bet. The post was initially tweeted on April 4, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 6, 2022, and on April 8, 2022.
  3. A “Jimi Hendrix Free Spin Friday,” including a chance to win 100 free spins in return for following the registrant’s Twitter account. That post was initially tweeted on April 8, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 8, 2022.

PointsBet Canada (says AGCO) broke the same rule with posters seen around Toronto:

  1. During the period from April 4, 2022, to April 21, 2022, posters on GO trains and in multiple products with an inducement to play for free.
  2. During the period from April 4, 2022, to April 17, 2022, posters at two GO train stations with an inducement to play for free.

Mo’ money, mo’ (alleged) problems for BetMGM

Additionally, AGCO fined BetMGM for an alleged violation of standard 2.04.

The rule requires operator marketing, advertising and promotions to be truthful and refrain from misleading players or misrepresenting products. Ensuring materials do not imply that the chance of winning increases with a higher spend is part of that requirement.

Under 2.04, AGCO fined BetMGM for three tweets sent on April 10. Those tweets claimed, “the more money you put in per bet, the higher your chance is of winning.”

Operators served with Notice of Monetary Penalty have the right to appeal the Registrar’s action to an appeal tribunal independent of the AGCO. However, it seems unlikely operators will push back against the regulator, who is arguably a critical partner.

AGCO holding Ontario operators to high standards

AGCO obligates operators to perform at high standards to take part in Ontario’s new market, said CEO and registrar Tom Mungham via the release.

“The AGCO holds all registered operators to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection and game integrity, and monitors their activities to ensure they are meeting their obligations under Ontario’s Gaming Control Act and the Standards.”

For its part, PointsBet Canada took the judgement seriously, quickly remediating the issue when notified of the interpretation error. PointsBet CEO Scott Vanderwel said:

“On behalf of PointsBet Canada, I personally apologize for our error made in the interpretation of the standards set forth by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) leading to this outcome.

“We pride ourselves on our reputation as a compliant operator and believe in working collaboratively with regulators inside the legal framework. We are advocates for the legalization and legitimization of this industry and believe in the importance of creating a level playing field in which all operators contribute to safe, responsible play.”

BetMGM did not respond to PlayCanada’s request for comment on Wednesday.

AGCO did reply via email this morning, but has yet to answer our more detailed questions. We will update with new information should that change and as the story evolves.

Enforcement questions remain

With its response, the AGCO doubled down on the statement Mungham provided with news of the fines.

“The AGCO holds all registered operators to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection and game integrity,” said the AGCO communications team via email.

The Registrar’s Standards, they offered, include clear restrictions on the advertising of inducements, bonuses or credits.

“The AGCO will continue to monitor registered operators’ activities to ensure they are meeting their obligations under Ontario’s Gaming Control Act, 1992 and its regulation (Ontario Regulation 78/12, and the Standards.”

This, they said, was all the information that could be provided at this time.

Had AGCO provided PlayCanada with an interview, we intended to learn more about the handling of infractions.

Although the regulator’s schedule of monetary penalties is available online, which parts of the schedule apply to these specific fines is unclear.

Do types of infractions have set fines? Is the extent of an offence a consideration? If so, how is that measured?

Is the difference in the fines levied on BetMGM and PointsBet due to the number of infractions? Or perhaps the severity of the offences is what makes the difference?

There does seem to be a difference between posters that invite people to sign-up and play free (when free play is an option) and actual bonus offers or prompts to risk more money. But, without more transparency from AGCO, we can’t know.

Hopefully, these questions (and more) will soon have answers.

Fines set the tone for compliance, says CGA’s Paul Burns

As a regulated site, you must follow the rules, said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. Burns told PlayCanada:

“I think they’ve been pretty clear.

“It’s unfortunate it’s come to fines, but I think it’s been a learning process for everybody. Regulations are one thing when they’re written.”

Their meaning and how they get interpreted are another thing entirely. Burns added:

“In terms of understanding how those are being applied, I think it’s going be a bit of a learning process for everybody. I think it will sort itself out in the coming months. But obviously, the AGCO wants to set the tone of what they look for in compliance. Inducements and incentives were really one of the particular areas where they were very firm.”

There will always be areas that need nuance, he said. However, he thinks AGCO must feel that, in this case, they were quite clear.

“I guess that’s why they’ve chosen to take the action they did.”

“It’s a learning process,” reiterated Burns. “And they’ve helped clarify it [the expectation] for those who have any questions.”

Photo by Brandon B, Shutterstock
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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax with an awesome teen, a mischievous cat, and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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