Surfing the National Basketball Association’s Canada-facing website, you find content for fans of all ages. From stats, schedules and where to watch to videos, analysis. There’s even a whole section en francais.
But ca.nba.com features something else too.
The NBA site is serving grey market ads to its Canadian audience.
On Nov 16 and 24, we found multiple banner ads for Sports Interaction’s sportsbook and casino while clicking through the site. Now, SI is something of a unique case. The site, regulated by the Kahnawà:ke Gaming Commission, is technically illegal under Canadian law. However, in more than two decades, no government has ever challenged Kahnawà:ke’s right to operate.
Plus, we found ads for 888 Casino too. Which legally is less ambiguous.
It’s important to note; however, AdChoices, a third-party provider, delivers the ads. But the ads are appearing on the NBA site, even on pages aimed at kids.
Is it even legal for online casinos to promote their service?
The official answer? No.
Although the federal government tried to liberalize the gambling market, it is still illegal for privately operated online casinos to run in Canada. Or promote their service.
“It’s half legal,” said Loto-Québec’s new president and CEO, Jean-François Bergeron, recently speaking to an audience at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
“The free games they offer us through their TV ads are legal, but we all know that their business model is not based on free play. It’s pay-to-play, and that’s not legal.”
While Ontarians and Quebecers are seeing various ads promoting free online gaming, it’s legal. What’s not legal is that these commercials lead to paid gambling sites.
It’s called the “grey market,” Bergeron said. “We all know that their business model is not based on free games.”
But, as we know, only the provinces can offer legal gambling in Canada. Our Criminal Code prohibits any betting unregulated by provincial lotteries like Loto-Québec.
What makes Ontario different?
As Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, has taken steps to open its gambling market. As of Sept 13, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) started accepting applications for registration of private operators and suppliers.
So, major international sportsbook operators are currently lining up for an Ontario gambling licence. With registration, once the new market official opens, they’ll be legally able to operate in the province. The emphasis here should be on the word “once.”
But, although we’re not there yet, the algorithms are already serving up gambling ads promoting thousand-dollar bonuses.
What happens next?
Most major sports betting companies advertising have managers and shareholders in Quebec and Ontario, within police jurisdiction.
So, the question is – is there a reason to investigate?