NorthStar Bets’ decision to allow Canadians outside of Ontario to gamble through its online casino and sportsbook is, at the very least, questionable in terms of the legal implications. But I’m curious about The Toronto Star‘s connection to all this.
In March of 2022, The Star‘s parent company, Torstar, signed a media deal with NorthStar Bets to partner on gambling content. According to The Star‘s website, Torstar operates “more than 80 newspapers and operates dozens of digital businesses in Canada through its main operating segments, City News Brands and Community Brands.”
The Star currently has a “sports betting news” section on its website where “partner content” is provided by NorthStar Bets.
Trouble is, now that NorthStar has begun taking bets from Canadians outside of Ontario — the only jurisdiction in which it is legal by provincial law — should a bastion of Canadian journalism still be in business with NorthStar?
A rather sizeable grey matter for The Toronto Star
Before we delve further into the Torstar part of this, some background.
It was interesting news considering Ontario is the only province that has legalized online gambling beyond the provincially run lottery and gaming outfits. That means, by the laws of the other nine provinces and three territories, NorthStar is not a legal operator outside of Ontario.
But, as with most things in Canadian online gambling, there is a grey area.
NorthStarBets.com clearly states it is “owned and operated by the Conseil des Abénakis de Wôlinak and is licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.” Though, it is also clear all this ties back to NorthStar Gaming Holdings Inc.
The URL makes it all-too-obvious this is a NorthStar operation. And, NorthStar Gaming Holdings Inc. is the one that put out the press release saying NorthStar would be available for betting nationwide. I’m sure that raised some eyebrows and hackles outside of Ontario.
Sure, sure, since the provinces do not have jurisdiction over the Kahnawake’s territory, technically NorthStar is legal where it is licensed.
And, as of yet, neither provincial nor federal authorities have deigned to challenge that jurisdiction. Though, the Kahnawakes have famously challenged the province of Ontario’s jurisdiction over them.
And, that’s partly why the Canadian online gambling industry is such a mess — because no one has challenged the grey-market operators and tried to put them out of business. But let’s save that for another day.
Provincial lottery corporations would say NorthStar is illegal
NorthStar’s “technically, maybe not, illegal” positioning does little to change the questionable optics.
Clearly, it’s a blurring of the lines and to say “other operators are doing it too” is no excuse. As my mother often says, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Ask the provincially-run lottery and gaming operators outside of Ontario whether NorthStar is legal in their provinces and I’m fairly certain they would answer: negative.
This summer, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation took serious umbrage with bet365 sponsoring the YQM country music festival in New Brunswick, where bet365 is not legal. How is what NorthStar is doing any different?
Also, ask the many operators that are only taking bets legally in Ontario and not doing business in the rest of Canada if it’s fair that NorthStar is collecting money in the other provinces and I’m sure the other operators are not happy about it either.
More awkward? NorthStar is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. So, NorthStar presumably abides by the provincial and federal laws governing their listing on the TSX, but not the ones that govern gambling outside of Ontario?
Gambling lawyer Jack Tadman wrote that while about half of 47 legal Ontario operators are taking bets from Canadians outside of that province, NorthStar is the only one that is publicly traded.
The Torstar-NorthStar deal was novel when Ontario launched
But, let’s go back to Torstar.
At the time it signed its deal with NorthStar nearly 20 months ago, it seemed like a novel idea — use some of the proceeds to support journalism in a time when print mediums, in particular, are struggling to find revenue sources.
But that was when NorthStar was concentrating on its legal operations in Ontario. Now that it is taking bets from people located in the rest of the country — against the current laws of those provinces — it is, at the very least, a bad look for Torstar to be in bed with NorthStar.
A blow to journalistic ethics at a time the industry is under siege
On Monday, I asked a colleague in Nova Scotia to check out The Star‘s sports betting news section. An article produced by NorthStar about betting on Monday’s Toronto Raptors game had links that took that person to NorthStar’s legal Ontario site. But, when my colleague tried to login, it directed them to the nationwide site that is not legal by provincial laws of Nova Scotia.
To me, providing story links to people outside of Ontario that take them to a betting site that isn’t legal by the provincial laws where those people live, is no better than Canadian broadcasters that take ad revenue from Bodog and other operators that aren’t legal by the laws of any province.
Though, one important aside here — kudos to Torstar for at least geolocating its ads. In Ontario, there are ads for NorthStar Bets in the sports betting news section. In Nova Scotia, there were none that my colleague could see. So, at least Nova Scotians aren’t getting bombarded with ads in The Star directing them to bet on a site the Nova Scotian government would consider illegal.
But while that’s nice, the real issue is that by doing business with a gambling operator that is choosing to flaunt the laws in 12 of the 13 jurisdictions in Canada, a major journalistic entity tarnishes its own ethics.
Even worse, Torstar is doing so in a time when journalism is under siege and the major players have even more pressure to be above reproach.
For sure, The Toronto Star would be among the first to call out such hypocrisy.