AGCO to prohibit use of athletes in online gaming advertising, marketing activities in Ontario

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has updated the Registrar’s Standards for online gaming, prohibiting the utilization of athletes in online gaming advertising and marketing activities. The regulator is also restricting the use of celebrities “who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.”

These changes come as a response to growing concerns about the potential adverse effects such promotions might have on underage individuals. The updated standards are set to take effect on February 28, 2024, and follow the first year of Ontario’s regulated iGaming market.

During this period, the AGCO identified several instances where athletes and celebrities were employed in iGaming advertising. The Commission recognized these approaches as potential hazards, particularly to those who are not of legal gambling age, which prompted the regulatory adjustments.

The AGCO’s decision to tighten restrictions on athlete and celebrity endorsements followed comprehensive consultations conducted in April 2023. Stakeholders from various domains, including mental health organizations, public health experts, responsible gambling advocates, gaming operators, broadcasting firms, marketing agencies, and the public, all weighed in on the policy update.

In light of the feedback received during these consultations, the AGCO determined that prohibiting the use of athletes, except for advocating responsible gambling practices, and imposing limitations on celebrities, role models, social media influencers, entertainers, cartoon characters, and symbols that could have an appeal to minors, was crucial to safeguarding young individuals from potentially harmful content.

Tom Mungham, Registrar and CEO of AGCO, underscored the considerable influence athletes and celebrities have on children and youth. Mungham noted: “Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to. We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”

In addition to these changes, the amended standards articulate that advertising, marketing materials, and communications must not target high-risk, underage, or self-excluded individuals for participation in lottery schemes. Furthermore, these materials shall not include underage individuals, nor should they knowingly be communicated or sent to high-risk players.

Advertising should refrain from themes or language primarily intended to appeal to minors, avoid locations closely associated with youth, and not exploit the vulnerabilities, aspirations, or lack of knowledge of high-risk individuals.

Under AGCO’s rules, gambling ads cannot appear on billboards or other outdoor displays that are directly adjacent to schools or other primarily youth-oriented locations; or use or contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.

To ensure adherence to these enhanced standards, the AGCO said it will provide additional guidance in the coming weeks.