Opinion: Ontario Needs To Adopt Policy Protecting Athletes From Unruly Bettors

Written By Matthew Lomon on January 31, 2023 - Last Updated on March 10, 2023
Ontario needs to follow the lead of Ohio and Massachusetts and protect athletes from scorned sports bettors.

The push to protect athletes from scorned bettors is gaining momentum among key betting jurisdictions south of the border. Massachusetts and Ohio already have plans in the works. But will the Ontario sports betting industry adopt similar preventative measures to protect athletes?

Massachusetts will legalize on-site sports betting today (Jan. 31) and mobile gambling in March. iMassachusetts is working with prominent player unions (i.e., NHLPA and NFLPA) to throttle a burgeoning issue that first came to a head in Ohio just a few weeks ago.

Reports of upticks in bettor-related harassment of collegiate athletes prompted the Ohio Lottery Commission to release a statement denouncing all forms of hate speech directed towards collegiate and professional athletes or their families as expressly prohibited.

Any sports bettor caught engaging in this behaviour will immediately find themselves on Ohio’s involuntary exclusion list. Those listed are banned from entering casino premises based on previous instances of personal misconduct. The Ohio General Assembly approved an additional sports gaming involuntary exclusion list in August 2022. Both lists are viewable on the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s  (OCCC) website.

Ontario sports betting industry does not have a policy

The practice of anticipating, planning, and confronting problems before they reach a crisis point, commonly known as proactive problem solving, remains every organization’s best strategy for staying one step ahead of potential threats.

Despite opening its market over nine months ago, neither the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario nor the AGCO’s online gaming unit iGaming Ontario have a stated policy to enhance athlete safety from angry bettors.

Granted, the number of at-risk athletes in Ohio or Massachusetts vastly outweighs that of Ontario, but that’s not a valid excuse for failing to enact enhanced safety measures amidst troubling developments.

At best, the AGCO’s mission statement has the vague words:

“… be client focused in the way we respond to and manage client and stakeholder needs.”

This isn’t a new problem, but social media amplifies it

Fan-athlete interactions were once restricted to mostly-inaudible, one-way dialogue inside a crowded arena.

However, in the social media era, the obstacles of time and chance have been erased by unbridled access.

Fan entitlement has skyrocketed. Inflammatory messages and posts have become the go-to outlet for outraged “fans” seeking some kind of restitution for a player’s inability to deliver a desired outcome. High-profile athletes, such as Kevin Durant, Rafael Devers, and Miles Sanders, have voiced their apathy towards fan wagers and the harassment that ensues after each game, settling on the consensus, “we don’t care about your parlay.”

The undeserved entitlement exhibited by insolent fans is growing at an alarming rate. Since April 2022, I have been to three Toronto Raptors games, two Toronto Blue Jays games, and one Toronto Maple Leafs game. At every game, there’s been at least five fans in my immediate vicinity who have hollered at a player for failing to help the fan cash his parlay. In fairness, few were menacing. And I understand heckling is part of any professional game. But it’s moving increasingly in a direction heavily influenced by gripes with unfulfilled wagers.

AGCO needs to act to protect athletes

The average person has no trouble separating the result of their wagers from the outcome of the game. The betting community receives a bad rap from the minority of those among them with unchecked aggression. This segment of fans, if we can still really call them that, are unable to act rationally. When they don’t win and lose their already loose grip on reality before launching into a threat-laden tirade.

The iGO and the AGCO need to provide a more protective gaming environment. They need to act to implement involuntary exclusion lists.

Otherwise, the rising tide of fan hostility will erode the integrity of the games we cherish.

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Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

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