NDP MP Brian Masse doesn’t want to see another NHL star in a sports gambling ad.
Less than a year into the launch of Ontario online sportsbooks and online casinos, the member of parliament is already calling for greater restrictions on professional athletes endorsing sportsbooks.
Ironically, Masse – who represents the Windsor West constituency – helped craft Bill C-218. The landmark legislation legalized single-game betting in Canada, ushering in a new – and lucrative – era of sports betting in the country.
Regardless, the politician says, via CityNews Vancouver, matters have gotten out of hand. Inundated now are sports games, commercials, streaming services and everyday life with gambling ads.
Worse, some of hockey’s biggest stars such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Wayne Gretzky have become sportspeople for gaming operators.
Masse worries about the potential impact on children and problem — or recovering — gamblers.
“Federally, we have to look at some issues in terms of how to deal with it, but provincially, they have to act tomorrow,” he said.
Masse’s remarks could signal shift in narrative
Indeed, Masse was instrumental in orchestrating Bill C-218 – known as The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act.
But it was actually Conservative Kevin Waugh – MP of Saskatoon – Grasswood – who introduced the private member’s bill.
To that end, it’s unclear how Waugh feels about the current reiteration of the legislation. PlayCanada reached out to Waugh’s office but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Regardless, in recent months many have shared Masse’s disdain across the country. Because of that, everything from a pan-Canadian coalition of provincial lottery corporations to national ad campaigns were created to discuss the matter.
However, to date, little substantive change has actually occurred.
Ads still run with NHL superstars. Betting segments continue during primetime hours and the public disgust persists.
A recent Ipsos survey found that “nearly half of Canadians (48%) say they agree (17% strongly; 31% somewhat) that the amount and volume of advertising is excessive and needs to be cut back.”
Yet, that could change if the feds entered the game.
Masse: The provinces can deal with sports betting problem right away
The only problem, Masse says, are the provinces remain largely in charge of gambling advertisements.
“The federal government should be looking at this no matter what, but if we want quicker action, the provinces can deal with this right away because they control how this actually is done.”
Gambling restrictions few compared to other societal vices
Axing celebrities from endorsing certain products – or industries – has happened before.
Consider Canada’s media regulator – the Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission (CRTC). Due to them, role models for children are banned from appearing in ads for alcohol.
The Canadian government has also heavily restricted advertising on tobacco and cannabis products through the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act.
Despite its lack of regulation currently, Masse still says there are many positives to Bill C-218.
For starters, he points to eliminating Canada’s grey market. Then, of course, there are the billions of potential dollars at play for provincial coffers.
Now it is simply a matter of fine tuning the sports betting landscape. Prioritize sports celebrity gambling ads, he said.
“This one I feel strongly about that we’ve done the right thing. The question now is how we respond to that. So, if respond appropriately to it, I know it’s a better situation.”
United Kingdom bans celebrities from endorsing gambling products
Across the pond, in the United Kingdom, sports stars, celebrities and social media influencers have been banned from appearing in gambling advertisements since April 2022. Youth and other vulnerable groups were the main reasons why.
Consider, in 2019 a survey by the U.K.’s Gambling Commission classified 55,000 children between 11-16 as “problem gamblers.”
More recently, in 2021, YouGov – an international research data group – labelled 1.4 million people in the U.K. as problem gamblers.
UK: No more soccer stars promoting the latest odds
U.K.’s celebrity gambling ban impacted international soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Michael Owen.
It’s a small prize to pay said Shahriar Coupal – the director of U.K.’s Committee of Advertising Practice.
“No more top-flight footballers or other high-profile sportspeople promoting the latest odds.
No more social media influencers, TV stars or other celebrities popular with children inviting us to bet on red. And, no more gambling ads featuring video game images or gameplay familiar to many children’s lives.”
Hockey stars won’t talk on issue
Back home, the severity of the issue – seemingly – isn’t lost on the conscious of multi-million-dollar athletes.
For instance, recently, the CBC documentary series, The Fifth Estate, did a deep dive into celebrity gambling endorsements.
Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are the three-headed monster when it comes to celebrity gambling ambassadors in Canada. The former two are brand ambassadors for BetMGM while the latter endorses Bet99.
However, none of them was keen to discuss their relationship with their respective companies with the CBC. Instead, when pressed at a media scrum following practice, Matthews said:
“I appreciate the question, but after all of that I don’t think I’m going to get into it much, honestly. You guys have any more hockey-related questions? I would like to keep on that if that’s okay. If not, we can just move forward.”
CBC gambling documentary exposes “Gamblification of Canada”
Masse thinks athletes know it’s morally wrong and wishes common sense prevailed. For starters, he says, operators shouldn’t be allowed to promote gambling during NHL games – especially considering families often watch together.
However, unfortunately to date, that hasn’t been the case.
Today, gambling ads are everywhere in NHL games. Some come during commercial breaks, others during split screens with live coverage and a few make their way right onto the arena boards.
Watching online, there is even a dedicated betting segment with sports personality host Cabbie Richards called SN Bets Big Board.
But, as always, money talks.
To that end, according to the Canadian Gaming Association, the industry is worth an estimated $14 billion per year.
Gambling brand ambassadors need to be aware of potential impact
Will Prochaska is the strategy director with Gambling with Lives – a U.K.-based group advocating for tougher controls on gambling.
He was a part of the CBC documentary and he thinks athletes may not even be aware the impact their voice has.
“They would have been offered enormous sums of money to, I think, sully their own reputations in the interest of profit for the gambling operators. I suspect they don’t understand the damage that they’re doing.”
“I suspect history would judge them harshly.”