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CFL wants Canadian parliament to spike gambling ad ban, as other countries ponder similar moves

| By Jill R. Dorson | Reading Time: 6 minutes
Canada's parliament is considering a bill that would limit or potentially ban gambling ads. The commissioner of the Canadian Football League sent a letter to his country's parliament essentially telling it to butt out.
CFL pushes back gambling ad ban

“We do not agree a national framework is required to regulate the advertising of sports betting in Canada,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie wrote in a letter the senate’s standing committee on transport and communications.

“Having said that, we do not claim perfection on this or any other issue. We recognise in all we do we must remain open minded and continue to learn and evolve.”

Ambrosie may be the first major professional league commissioner anywhere in the world to publicly oppose a gambling ad ban. In the letter to the committee, Ambrosie outlined measures the league has already taken to limit exposure to gambling advertising. The CFL also has responsible gaming initiatives in place and educates its employees on the topic.

Ambrosie wrote that the CFL regulates “sports wagering advertising on league-controlled channels, such as broadcast-visible signage on the field, to limit how often and how prominently a sportsbook’s digital log is featured during a CFL game.”

US, Australian governments also considering bans

In the US, the NFL itself limits gambling ads to six per game. But none of the US professional leagues have spoken out publicly against a blanket gambling ad ban. All of the American professional leagues, in addition to several broadcast partners, in 2023 formed the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising.

No other US professional league has imposed a limit on the number of gambling ads during games.

The Canadian parliament isn’t the only federal government that thinks regulating how often gambling ads can be seen is wise. In 2023, a bill was filed in the US congress calling for a total ban on gambling advertising. And in Australia, parliament is investigating a blanket ban.

Italy and Belgium already have such laws in place while Germany and Holland have partial gambling ad bans.

The idea behind a total advertising ban is to prevent those under 21 or otherwise at-risk from being subjected to the ads. But it is unclear yet if blanket ban has the desired effect.

“Flood of advertising” too much

Canada’s parliament decriminalised single-event wagering in 2021. Ever since betting went live in Ontario in April 2022, citizens have complained – at times vehemently – about the number and content of gambling ads. In February of this year, 59% of respondents to a Maru Public Opinion poll said they favour a total ban.

Subsequently S-269, a bill that would limit the frequency of gambling ads, was introduced. Last month, the transport and communications committee had a two-day hearing on it. Senator Marty Deacon is the bill’s sponsor.

“I wish we had considered at the time the flood of advertising that would go along with it,” Deacon said about legalisation. “If you have watched a hockey game or other sporting event in the last two years, you have been subjected to a barrage of advertising encouraging you to a place a bet.

“Networks have teamed up with betting companies or even started their own betting ads. Betting ads adorn the walls and equipment in hockey arenas and football stadiums, some have even made it onto the uniforms of our teams. This could be a mere annoyance, an irritation for some, if it were not so damaging.”

Problem and responsible gambling advocates support the idea of national advertising guidelines. All those who favour a ban point to the corruption of kids and others at risk as the key issue.

In June the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction released a study that includes recommendations about when and how often gambling ads can run.

“Gambling harms are much broader to a lot of people: [many] encounter a lot of financial challenges, relationship difficulties, some health issues and certainly some psychological challenges when they become too involved in gambling,” Matthew Young, who co-authored the study told the CBC. 

AGCO already trying to tamp down gambling ads

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Canada (AGCO) last year began to address concerns. In late February, the agency laid out new regulations that ban sportsbooks from using celebrities for promotional activities. It also banned sportsbook billboard advertising near schools, or other places where youth or vulnerable populations congregate. The AGCO has not, at least publicly, taken any action on banning gambling ads or limiting their frequency on TV.

S-269 doesn’t propose an outright gambling ad ban. And it’s not clear if the federal government in Canada could even enforce such a law. As in the United States, legal gambling is not federally regulated. In Canada, single-event wagering is a provincial issue, with a local lottery in charge. In the US, it is a state issue.

Ontario so far is the only Canadian province to launch a legal competitive wagering market. But representatives from Alberta’s government have recently promised that province is next. Alberta is home to two of Canada’s seven NHL teams, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. British Columbia lawmakers and agencies also appear to be considering introducing competitive markets.

Part of the conversation during that June committee hearing was about how the federal government could create guidelines, but would also have to work in partnership with provinces, which have the ultimate say.

Late last June, the AGCO removed ads gambling ads from an arena at which youth hockey teams play. The action seems in line with the new regulations. It might also suggest the Ontario regulators would be open to working with the federal government to limit ads.

US, Australia continue considering gambling ad ban

In the US, Senator Paul Tonko proposed a bill that would limit gambling advertising. The bill would also require states to seek permission to allow sports betting. In addition, it would ban the use of credit cards to fund accounts. The proposal is Tonko’s second try at federal oversight, In 2023, he filed a bill that would have banned gambling ads, but it did not gain traction.

According to the outline of Tonko’s latest proposal, no gambling advertising would be permitted between 8am and 10pm. Besides that, sports betting ads would be prohibited during live games.

Canada’s bill appears less extreme. As both North American countries contemplate limits, lawmakers in Australia are studying how to move forward. A current inquiry revealed that citizens are “frustrated and annoyed” by the current level of wagering ads. And that “[there] is public support for significant restrictions on gambling advertising”.

At the completion of the inquiry, a parliamentary social policy and legal affairs committee recommended a “comprehensive ban on all forms of advertising for online gambling, to be introduced in four phases, over three years, commencing immediately”.

That was in 2023.

Australian politicians “scared” of gambling industry?

Independent MP Kate Chaney told Sky News last month that there has been no movement because Australian politicians are “scared, really. I think they are scared of the very strong gambling lobby who also make significant political donations.

“They are scared of the powerful media and also of the sports codes that stand to benefit from online gambling ads, which have tripled in the last decade.”

Chaney told SkyNews that it’s been more than a year since the inquiry report was filed and that “we’ve just seen delay after delay and no action. Government is meant to respond within six months and it’s been [more than 12]”.

The Australian report laid out a national strategy for online gambling harm reduction and guidelines for counselling and support services. It has “multi-partisan” support.

Chaney favours a total gambling ad ban, saying: “We want to be able to look back on gambling ads like we now look back on tobacco ads and say, ‘I’m so glad we did that.’”

Those in UK see 700 gambling ads per football match

Lawmakers in Belgium and Italy may be able to make that claim in the coming years. But other countries are still wrestling with next steps.

In the UK, the government continues to break down and implement the 2023 gambling white paper. In 2023 The Conversation reported that UK football viewers see gambling logos 700 times per match. In addition, operators post more than 28,000 social media gambling ads per year.

Those numbers, however, lack context, What other types of logos are prevalent during sporting events? How are they different than online games like Candy Crush offering specials? Or coffee chains pushing extra reward points for more purchases as Starbucks does?

Is it parents’ sole responsibility to protect kids?

During the Canadian parliament discussion about S-269, there was discord and healthy discussion, but no clear path forward. Two senators had a poignant back-and-forth about where responsibility for protecting children falls:

Senator Paula Simons: “I would suggest that it is up to the parents. Sorry, but it doesn’t matter whether it is advertising for junk food or child pornography. I see a pattern of overreach across many issues where people have a well-intentioned goal to protect the children. However, fundamentally, this is a family responsibility.”

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne: “Thank you for being here. I want to start by apologising for my reaction to what you just said, but I fundamentally disagree with the assertion that only parents are responsible for their children’s well-being online. In 2024, it’s impossible for parents to monitor everything their children see. That’s like saying liquor stores shouldn’t check to see whether someone is underage.

“The government steps in to minimise the harms done to children and should continue to do so.”

Ambrosie sees the process of managing gambling ads as an evolution. He also clearly sees it as an evolution his CFL should be entitled to manage on its own.

“The CFL has demonstrated its commitment to the integrity of our sport and to save a sports wagering environment for those who choose to bet on our games,” he wrote. “We strongly believe that the measures we, and other sports leagues, have put in place support our contention that a national framework, as envisioned by Bill S-269, is not necessary.”