Ontario Bans Ads Promoting Online Gaming Inducements, Bonuses And Credits

Written By Dave Briggs on March 7, 2022 - Last Updated on June 20, 2022
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Players will still get the bonuses; they just won’t have to hear about them constantly.

Ontario online gambling customers will not be bombarded with ads promoting inducements, bonuses and credits to sign up with gaming companies. But they may be bombarded with gambling ads, nonetheless. However, contingencies are in place for that, too.

Four months since the launch of Ontario online casino and sports betting went live, IAB Canada and thinktv welcomed 600 industry stakeholders to the webinar “Responsible Advertising for iGaming.”

Industry leaders, stakeholders and regulators that spoke Monday admitted that, currently, there are no controls in place to limit the number of ads. With about 30 operators eventually expected in the market, levers are in place to pull in case oversaturation becomes an issue.

Customers will still get bonuses, just not advertised

The rules established by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and its subsidiary iGaming Ontario prevent companies from advertising sign-up deals. But that does not mean customers won’t get those deals; they just won’t hear about them endlessly.

Jay Welbourn, the manager of quality assurance and training for the AGCO, 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.

Ontario gambling takes a harder stance than most US states

Ontario is just the latest jurisdiction to be wrestling with the issue. The province is taking a harder stance against promoting the promotions than in the US, where more than half of states have sports betting.

“It’s been observed in other gaming jurisdictions that without such regulatory restrictions, the advertising space is often saturated with sign-up bonus offers as operators compete for the attention of new players,” Welbourn said. “In Ontario, you will not see such advertisements. Once players access an operator’s gaming site bonus offers may be displayed. They may also be provided through direct marketing to those players who have consented to receive them. Any displayed offers must disclose all material conditions and limitations on the same page, so players have the information they need to understand the offer.”

Bonuses such as deposit matches and so-called “risk-free” bets are sometimes misleading or could trigger those with gambling addictions. The AGCO is requiring operators to carefully spell out bonus details when a player does reach that stage of registration on their site.

That sometimes includes onerous playthrough requirements.

AGCO’s strong approach on advertising

Brent McCurdy, the AGCO’s deputy chief operating officer, said the AGCO is taking “a really strong approach on advertising.

“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.”

Onus on operators to meet standards

Welbourn said the bonus would be on the licensed operators to ensure the advertising standards are met. That includes ensuring that any company they deal with, including affiliates such as PlayOntario, follows the rules.

“The accountability for meeting advertising standards is held by the iGaming operators. It is the iGaming operators who are responsible to ensure that any third party that they contract with meets the standards,” Welbourn said.

“This approach reduces regulatory burden and allows for flexibility, innovation and efficiencies. It also requires greater responsibility for the regulated entities to ensure that their activities are meeting the intended outcomes.”

Responsibility at the forefront of Canada gambling rules

Paul Burns is the CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. He said, “enhancing consumer choice and providing consumer protection has really been at the forefront of what Ontario is doing. We have been fully supportive of that.”

McCurdy said responsible gambling is an important part of consumer protection.

“We all know gambling can cause harm … that’s why it is a regulated industry,” McCurdy said.

Welbourn said, “all advertising and marketing materials for gambling sites shall contain a responsible gambling message.”

Look for the iGO logo before you go

David Smith is the director of market strategy and insights for iGaming Ontario. He said all operators are also required to commit to responsible gambling protocols. Licensed regulators must display the official iGaming Ontario logo.

“Operators must dedicate a specified proportion of gross gaming revenues generated in Ontario to problem gambling prevention education. That demonstrates an operator’s commitment to responsible gambling messages.

“For the first year following the market launch, iGO will encourage, but not require, operators to invest in RG campaigns. However, a portion will not be specified. This requirement aims to achieve a balance between RG messaging and promotional marketing. Importantly, these RG campaigns that are solely dedicated to RG messages may include things such as: how games work, how to manage your play and where to get help. Simply adding an RG tagline to a promotional ad does not fulfill this requirement.”

Smith added that it is “critical that we implement measures to guard against underage individuals being exposed to iGaming marketing communications as much as possible. As such, operators must ensure that all paid, sponsored social media only be targeted those 19 (years or older). Organic content posted on owned social media channels must be age-restricted to those 19+ where possible within the capability of the relevant social media platforms utilized.”

Those that don’t comply be warned

Smith said iGaming Ontario will have tools to deal with operators flaunt advertising rules.

“We have put provisions in the operating agreement. If we do need to do so, we can limit advertising in a fairly quick manner… Like the AGCO and the Canadian Gaming Association, we’ll be monitoring this very closely.”

Burns said it is incumbent on operators to comply.

“We have to realize that 30-plus companies will be entering the market in the next several months. The volume is going to go up. And I think one of the things that we can adhere to is the standards the AGCO has come up with.

“I think it’s incumbent on everybody to make sure that we play a role adhering to the regulatory standards. And I think it’s a commitment that we continue to look and see how it’s working going forward. If changes do need to be made, that either iGO or AGCO may request or the industry may request, I think that’s why we’ve tried to keep an open dialogue going and will as the market emerges to see how it occurs.”

Caution about .net advertising

Burns also cautioned that .net sites promoting free-to-play games will still be legal after the launch. He said they are “vetted in consumer protection laws, which are beyond the purview of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission.

“But, as I think a lot of people appreciate… (we need a) better understanding of TV advertising and, particularly, the role TV plays. They have been very active in this space in policing .net advertising in terms of ensuring those sites that they’re promoting contain no links (to pay sites).

“We’ll look at the use of .net advertising. If it continues, we at the CGA may request a repeal of the law if we think it’s necessary, if it’s being used as a way to circumvent the marketplace. We will continue to monitor that issue.”

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Written by
Dave Briggs

Before joining PlayOntario, Dave spent more than 25 years as a writer and editor, mainly covering horse racing in Canada. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Western University and was a 2018 inductee into the Communicators' Corner of the U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Beyond a deep passion for family and music, Dave has a mostly-tragic, life-long love of Detroit sports teams. He lives in Port Stanley, Ontario with his wife and their beloved Vizsla named California.

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