Shelley White: Gambling Advertising Should Promote Responsible Play

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on January 20, 2022 - Last Updated on February 2, 2022
Assorted denominations of casino chips seen from above form a frame around colourful text reading gamble responsibly

Sportsbooks are here — at least in billboard form.

As the expansion of Ontario’s online gambling and sports betting market approaches (at least in theory), online sportsbook and casino advertising is on an uptick.

Along with the increase in promotion come concerns about the jump and whether it will trigger a rise in problem gambling.

PlayCanada reached out to Shelley White, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council, to discuss the need for strong standards around gambling advertising and marketing.

White acknowledges the power of our favourite teams. But she said the excitement we get as we watch, that emotional factor, can impact our decisions. There’s a “very social element” to watching these sports with our peers, and that, she said, could also influence decision-making.

White also noted the “illusion of control” when people believe they know a sport so well they feel overly confident predicting the outcome of a game.

Knowing is half the battle; giving education a critical role

That “gambling should never come at a human cost” is a foundational belief at RGC.

The Toronto-based non-profit has been a leader in problem-gambling prevention for more than 35 years. It believes sustainable gambling behaviours can only be good for players and the industry.

White strongly believes the province must educate the public on gambling risks. That’s apart from government regulatory standards and non-governmental responsible gambling initiatives and campaigns.

“What is extremely important,” said White, “is that there is a proactive and ongoing public education program in place that is designed in consultation with organizations like RGC.” 

“It should also include regulators and operators, public health, sports leagues, and community organizations to ensure that we’re having comprehensive conversations about what the risks are.”

What also matters, said White, is the kind of message we provide and how we go about providing it as we seek to ensure strong consumer safeguards.

To that end, the RGC partnered up with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation to provide responsible gambling information in every casino in the province.

“There are player information centres, free of charge,” said White.

Hubs invite players to visit with trained RGC staff to learn about gambling myths and misconceptions. They offer people information about casino gambling safety. And details about how games work and the tools that can safeguard players, including limits on money and time.

Ontario inching toward market launch

Ontario has already taken steps to establish a responsible gambling framework.

Ontario’s regulators have been carefully planning the opening of its online gambling market. The change will allow private operators of online sportsbooks and casinos to serve Ontario players legally.

In return, operators will pay the province a substantial cut of their revenues.

After gathering months of industry feedback, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario released final regulatory standards for internet-based sports and event betting in September 2021.

The standards take particular exception to the use of “free” and “risk-free.” Regulations stipulate that all advertisements must be truthful and not promote “free” or “risk-free” wagers—unless the bets are truly free.

Ubiquitous ads are RGC’s biggest concern

The risk of heightened acceptance from ads’ eventual, omnipresent nature is one of the organization’s most significant concerns.

PlayCanada has already noted a bevy of gambling commercials and advertisements during different sportscasts, mostly from grey markets.

But Canadians can expect to encounter more gambling ads in the future, not less.

Promotions are also a big part of online casino and sportsbook advertising. But players signing up should easily understand what they are signing up to get.

According to some regulators, said White, not all bonuses and inducement offers are truthful or honest. In New York, for example, Caesars Sportsbook is facing backlash in the new market from gamblers who are not getting what they expected at sign-up.

Also, “some bonuses could be greater than the players’ budget for gambling,” added White. “So we’ve got to be aware of that.”

And that’s why the RGC provided its input around advertising standards to AGCO and iGamingOntario during the consultation process.

“We’ve actually been working with the government on their commitment to consumer protection for the past two years,” said White.

“In order to protect vulnerable populations, we’ve also recommended that there needs to be a public education program that coincides with the launch of the expansion of our gaming and sports betting in Ontario so that Ontarians are receiving the information they require to make good decisions and then use the tools that are in place to create that safety net.”

Brand ambassadors, celebrities, and influencers enter the chat

Brand ambassadors, influencers, and celebs play very influential roles in online gambling advertising. And for a good reason.

The personalities picked to be brand ambassadors are chosen to capitalize on their connection to a specific audience. In a sense, an operator is wagering that the money spent on the campaign is less than the campaign’s rake. But if the many announcements of partnerships and deals are any indication, it’s a winning strategy.

Said White: “It has to be ensured that there are clear guidelines when it comes to those celebrities’ endorsements, as well as what they’re saying when they’re saying it [and] when those ads appear.”

She also noted the opportunity for those influencers to promote a responsible gambling message, as “celebrities can influence people’s behaviours and opinions.”

And with partnerships and endorsements with notable Canadians on the rise, sports in Canada may never be the same.

Already we have BetRegal on board with the CFL as the league’s official sports gaming partner.

And PointsBet Canada just signed a multi-year exclusive partnership deal with the Trailer Park Boys. One of PBC’s strategies seems to be focusing on partnering with icons.

In addition to TPB, they’ve announced deals with Curling Canada and teams Einarson and Koe, DailyFaceOff.com, The Nation Network, and the National Hockey League Alumni Association.

When it comes to gambling advertising, what’s legal?

It is not illegal for Ontario online sportsbook and casino operators to use “inducements, bonuses and credits in advertising and marketing campaigns,” according to Section 2.05 of the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming.

Bonuses and inducements, however, can only appear on an “operator’s gaming site,” according to the standards:

“Advertising and marketing materials that communicate gambling inducements, bonuses and credits are prohibited, except on an operator’s gaming site and through direct advertising and marketing, after receiving active player consent.”

As for outdoor ads, Greater Toronto residents are already experiencing a variety of billboard advertising. JackpotCity Casino is one of many examples.

Still, specific advertising options will be prohibited when the online market launches. Gaming ads on billboards “directly adjacent to schools,” for instance, will not be allowed.

When it comes to TV commercials, White notes it is vital operators do not promote gambling during the day “when kids are watching the programs.”

Operators must also be aware of the impact of direct advertising on social media, where everything is one click away.

Finding the right balance will be key

For operators seeking a competitive advantage ahead of Ontario’s approaching online gaming launch, it’s all about finding advertising balance.

The ads reflect the choice in our community, said White. But operators should encourage people to gamble responsibly with their advertising. It is imperative operators ensure players know the risks they face and the tools available to prevent problem gambling.

“The RGC has addressed the importance of ensuring that there’s a balance,” said White. “The right balance between the advertising that’s going to take place in the free market and responsible gambling advertisements.”

“The public has to be ensured that they know they have the information they need about how to play responsibly, how to play safer, and also know where they can go to get the support they need if their gambling is out of control.”

Photo by Shutterstock/Matt Kay
Katarina Vojvodic Avatar
Written by
Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina is a Toronto-based online gambling writer who holds a master's degree in journalism. Before joining PlayCanada, she was part of the AskGamblers crew where she reported about the world of online casinos and interviewed numerous iGaming experts. Being in the industry for 5 years, she became an expert in online slots.

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