Ontario-based sports betting ads continue to be shown on TVs across Canada. For now, it’s the networks’ call

Two years after they first exploded onto television screens, ads for sports betting platforms only regulated in Ontario continue to bombard Canadians in markets where the websites are not regulated.

A coalition of lottery and gaming corporations from eight provinces across the country wants that changed.

“We are in a fight with people that are operating illegally in our provinces,” said Marie-Noëlle Savoie, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s chief compliance officer and vice-president of safer play & enterprise integrity — and a spokesperson for the Canadian Lottery Coalition.

“We’re obviously not very happy about it.”

When Ontario launched its open, competitive online gaming market in April 2022, it offered platforms that were previously unregulated and considered part of the “grey market” the right to advertise their products — in exchange for regulatory fees, taxes and adhering to responsible gambling protocols.

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Over 75 platforms are now considered regulated entities in Ontario, but are still part of the grey market in other provinces who opted to limit their markets to their own gambling websites.

Savoie said some of the gaming platforms regulated in Ontario are operating in other provinces.

‘If you buy in Ontario, you get Canada’

She said her group hoped the ads these platforms purchased on national networks would be separated by province. But for most of these media buys, she said the package is “if you buy in Ontario, you get Canada.”

“It’s not ideal when you have competitors, but they’re actually not competitors in your market, showing up as if they are competitors.”

Savoie said, in 2022, it was estimated the Canadian online gambling market was worth $3.8 billion and forecast to grow to $6.2 billion in 2026.

Brian Miller, with Lotteries and Gaming Saskatchewan, said the coalition estimates illegal or grey market platforms are taking more than $1.8 billion annually across Canada from legal gaming operators.

He said he’s seen a range of estimates for Saskatchewan.

“All I can say is regardless of where the number actually falls, the number in terms of lost revenue is significant,” he said.

Savoie and Miller said that money should be going to government gaming platforms where revenues support health care, education, community initiatives and local economies.

Savoie said the media companies could make the decision to geofence these ads so they only appear in Ontario. She said the coalition has tried to address this with the broadcasters and the federal government for the last two years. While she said the talks continue, it hasn’t changed.

“The fact that people are starting to speak up I think might change it,” she said. “When the public doesn’t want to see it, it could change.”

A recent study from CBC’s Marketplace and researchers in the U.K. found that TV viewers in Canada are exposed to gambling ads about three times a minute during a sports broadcast — or up to 20 per cent of every game.

In the first test of its kind, we reveal the high number of gambling advertisements that come with watching sports and whether current regulations go far enough.

A survey conducted by Maru Public Opinion in February suggests 66 per cent of Canadians say sports betting commercials should not be allowed during live sports games and events — and 59 per cent believe a nationwide ban on sports betting commercials needs to be implemented right away.

As well, 75 per cent of respondents said there’s a need to protect youth and children from sports betting commercials and marketing.

The polling firm said it surveyed a random selection of 1,534 Canadian adults who are Maru Voice Canada online panellists. The study has an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Networks respond

When CBC News asked broadcasters why Ontario-based TV ads for sports betting platforms continue to be broadcast in other provinces where the websites aren’t regulated, a spokesperson for Rogers Sports & Media, which owns Sportsnet, said in a statement that the company’s TV channels broadcast nationally so ads for Ontario-based advertisers will be seen across Canada.

The statement also said that all betting ads that appear on its channels also include a disclaimer that specifies “Ontario only.”

In an email, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson said it was his understanding that as long as the ads say “Ontario only,” they’re not required to be geofenced.

The statements from Rogers and CBC also referenced required Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) standards and clearance from thinktv, which Thompson described as the independent, self-regulatory body that issues clearance for ads suitable for broadcast in Canada.

According to its website, just over half of thinktv’s board of directors are with CBC/Radio-Canada, Rogers Media or Bell Media.

When asked by CBC News to explain these ads’ appearance in markets outside Ontario, thinktv didn’t respond.

Bell Media, which owns TSN, also didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. But it previously told CBC’s Marketplace that TSN follows all standards and guidelines around sports betting ads and in-game content set forth by the AGCO and various sports leagues.

Could the CRTC step in?

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) describes itself as the administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest.

The country’s Broadcasting Act says the CRTC may make regulations “respecting the character of advertising and the amount of broadcasting time that may be devoted to advertising.”

When asked why TV ads for sports betting platforms are being broadcast in markets where they aren’t regulated, a CRTC spokesperson said, “gambling falls under provincial jurisdiction, so questions regarding regulations or complaints for gambling should be directed to the relevant provincial authorities.

“The CRTC does not regulate gambling organizations.”

The statement also said the CRTC does not regulate the content of advertisements, except for advertising to children and alcohol ads.

Senator wants national framework

The CRTC’s mandate is administered through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

CBC News asked the minister’s office why television networks are allowed to broadcast the ads in question outside Ontario.

In response, a spokesperson said the office was aware of Senator Marty Deacon’s bill, Bill S-269, “which seeks to set a national standard for these ads, similar to regulations regulating tobacco and alcohol ads.”

The spokesperson said the minister’s office is following the Senate debate closely and looking forward to examining the legislation when it is introduced in the House of Commons.

The bill in its current form would require the Minister of Canadian Heritage to develop the national framework.

The proposed legislation also states that the CRTC must review its regulations and policies “to assess their adequacy and effectiveness in reducing the incidence of harms resulting from the proliferation of advertising for sports betting.”

During second reading in the Senate last September, Deacon said, “The reality is that Canadians outside of Ontario are being targeted with these advertisements, and there’s no real penalty for placing a bet with them.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to gambling, here’s where to get help with the Responsible Gambling Council: responsiblegambling.org.


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