Nearly two months ago, PlayOntario told you the regulator that oversees the Ontario online casino, poker and sports betting market was serious about enforcing its strict advertising rules. At the time, it was unclear how the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) would enforce its policy banning the promotion of inducements, bonuses and credits.
We now have the answer.
Late Tuesday, the AGCO issued fines of $48,000 to BetMGM Canada and $30,000 to PointsBet Canada for allegedly breaking its rules.
The two operators have the right to appeal the AGCO’s action to the Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT), which is an adjudicative tribunal independent of the AGCO and part of Tribunals Ontario. There was no word at press time whether the operators would appeal. We at PlayOntario will update this story when we hear more.
What rules did they, allegedly, break?
An AGCO press release alleges BetMGM Canada and PointsBet Canada broke standard 2.05, which: “prohibits advertising and marketing materials that communicate gambling inducements, bonuses and credits, except on a licensed operator’s gaming site and via direct advertising and marketing, after receiving active player consent.“
BetMGM allegedly violated that standard with the following gambling inducements:
- A “$250K Launch Party” advertisement, including a contest offer where the first-place winner gets $100K in casino bonus. The post was initially tweeted on April 4, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 11, 2022.
- A “Bellagio” advertisement, including an offer of a $10 casino bonus in return for a $25 bet. The post was initially tweeted on April 4, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 6, 2022, and on April 8, 2022.
- A “Jimi Hendrix Free Spin Friday,” including a chance to win 100 free spins in return for following the registrant’s Twitter account. That post was initially tweeted on April 8, 2022, and later tweeted again on April 8, 2022.
PointsBet Canada allegedly broke that same rule for the following:
- During the period of April 4, 2022, to April 21, 2022, posters on GO trains and in multiple products with an inducement to play for free.
- During the period of April 4, 2022, to April 17, 2022, posters at two GO train stations with an inducement to play for free.
BetMGM allegedly also violated standard 2.04, which “prohibits companies from marketing ‘gambling inducements, bonuses and credits’ unless it is on their website after a player has given ‘active’ consent. Under that standard, BetMGM was fined for three separate tweets from April 10 that stated: “the more money you put in per bet, the higher your chance is of winning.”
Restrictive ad rules aimed at preventing problem gambling
Gaming operators are allowed to advertise — which is obvious given the bombardment of ads from the 16 companies now taking bets in Ontario.
Instead, the rules prohibit companies from doing what is prevalent in other North American gaming markets — mentioning deals aimed at getting consumers to sign up. The companies can still offer the deals; they just can’t advertise them. It’s on consumers to search out available offers directly for operator websites.
At a March 7 webinar called Responsible Advertising for iGaming put on by IAB Canada and thinktv, the AGCO’s manager of quality assurance and training, Jay Welbourn said:
“Research has shown that such advertisements are associated with the greatest increases in gambling-related harms, so it’s obvious why we would prohibit their use. On the other hand, such offers are popular with players and they support the establishment of a successful, regulated market. So, this standard aims to strike a balance. It does not prohibit the use of inducements, bonuses or credits, but it does prohibit the public advertising of them.”
Learning from other jurisdictions’ mistakes
Brent McCurdy, the AGCO’s deputy chief operating officer, said the AGCO is taking a really strong approach on advertising. He said:
“We really have focused on the harms as we see them. We want to make sure that there’s transparency, that we’re not targeting at-risk people, we’re not having misleading advertising. We’re really restricting bonuses in the public sphere so we don’t have one of the issues that’s happened in some of the other jurisdictions where there’s been this rush to have huge amounts of bonuses flooding the market.
“Our jurisdictional reviews and research has really targeted this as one of the most problematic aspects of when the advertising gets really out of control. Volume, in and of itself, can be an issue. We understand that new entrants to the market need to advertise and want to get their name out there. So, there’s a real tension here, but we need to think about the broader public perception and making sure that we’re staying within that kind of acceptable range as you’re getting out there even with brand advertising.”
AGCO CEO said he is holding operators to a high standard
In a statement announcing the fines, AGCO CEO Tom Mungham (pictured), whom we interviewed in March, said:
“The AGCO holds all registered operators to high standards of responsible gambling, player protection and game integrity, and monitors their activities to ensure they are meeting their obligations under Ontario’s Gaming Control Act and the Standards.”
A key part of the AGCO’s role in online sports and casino gaming will be consumer protection. On that subject, Mungham told PlayOntario:
“The AGCO’s regulatory standards have several key priorities like game fairness, player protection, responsible gambling, anti-money laundering and several others. Here are just a few examples of what this looks like.
“All gaming sites are required to conduct their gaming activities and their financial transactions fairly and in a way that is independently verifiable. The key aspects of games and gaming systems that ensure fairness to players must be certified by independent testing laboratories that are monitored by the AGCO. All sites offering sport and event betting must work to detect suspicious betting patterns and contract with independent integrity monitors to protect against insider betting, event manipulation and other activities that could unfairly affect outcomes.
“Mandatory player protections include that site operators must secure their players’ personal information and protect their privacy. They must also protect player deposits and guarantee payouts for all winnings.”