February 8, 2024
When the Government of Ontario launched the open, regulated internet gaming (igaming) market in 2022, it had several important goals, including consumer protection with a particular focus on youth and other potentially vulnerable groups. The AGCO designed a regulatory framework to address this important goal and remains committed to taking the necessary steps to maintain a safe, sustainable, and successful igaming market.
The AGCO recently announced amendments to the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming (the “Registrar’s Standards”) to strengthen requirements related to advertising and marketing activities. Specifically, Standard 2.03 (the “Standard”) was modified to restrict the use of individuals who would likely be expected to appeal to minors and restrict the use of athletes in advertising and marketing in Ontario, except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices.
Following the announcement of the revised Standard, the AGCO worked with igaming operators and other impacted stakeholders to help ensure successful implementation of the new requirements. Input received from the sector has assisted the AGCO in the development of this guidance and demonstrated the shared objective of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of Ontario’s youth.
The updates to the Standard, which come into effect February 28, 2024, are bolded and underlined below.
2.03 – Advertising, marketing materials and communications shall not target high-risk, underage or self-excluded persons to participate in lottery schemes, shall not include underage individuals, and shall not knowingly be communicated or sent to high-risk players. (Also applicable to Gaming-Related Suppliers)
Requirements – At a minimum, materials and communications shall not:
- Be based on themes, or use language, intended to appeal primarily to minors.
- Appear on billboards or other outdoor displays that are directly adjacent to schools or other primarily youth-oriented locations.
- Use or contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors. [This requirement has been changed]
- Use active or retired athletes, who have an agreement or arrangement made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator or gaming-related supplier, in advertising and marketing except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices. [This requirement is new]
- Use individuals who are, or appear to be, minors to promote gaming.
- Appear in media and venues, including on websites, and in digital or online media, directed primarily to minors, or where most of the audience is reasonably expected to be minors.
- Exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of all potentially high-risk persons, or otherwise extoll the virtues of gaming.
- Entice or attract potentially high-risk players. Instead, measures shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players. [This requirement has been changed]
AGCO’s Standards-Based Approach
The AGCO established a comprehensive, standards-based regulatory framework for igaming operators and gaming-related suppliers (“Registrants”) to follow. The objective of a standards-based regulatory model is to shift the focus from requiring Registrants to comply with a specific set of rules or processes, which tend to be prescriptive in nature, towards the broader regulatory outcomes or objectives they are expected to achieve. These regulatory outcomes are reflected in the Registrar’s Standards. This approach offers greater flexibility for regulated entities to make decisions that best suit their business needs while meeting the regulatory outcomes.
A Registrant’s control environment and operating principles form an integral part of the standards-based framework. Registrants are responsible for developing and documenting their processes or methodology, for making judgements based on internally established criteria, and for having control activities to meet the Registrar’s Standards, taking into account how the risks apply in their particular situation.
The AGCO acknowledges the role that advertising and marketing plays in creating and sustaining Ontario’s regulated igaming market. The AGCO has established Marketing and Advertising Standards to protect potentially vulnerable populations, including underage individuals.
The AGCO takes a compliance-focused approach to regulation, and our goal is to work proactively with Registrants to help to meet regulatory obligations and support compliance. While the AGCO does not pre-approve advertisements or act as a review panel, the AGCO remains committed to working together with Registrants to foster a shared understanding of all standards and the standards-based approach.
For greater clarity on Requirement 3:
The Standard broadens and strengthens this requirement (which formerly referred to “primary appeal”) by prohibiting the use of those “who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.” It now focuses on the relevant factor: whether an individual is likely expected to appeal to minors. While the AGCO recognizes the fluid nature of individuals’ appeal to different groups, given that public interest and appeal is dynamic, we encourage Registrants to use their judgement to determine whether the individual likely appeals to minors. The AGCO will be looking for Registrants to conduct a credible assessment, using criteria they have established for likely appeal, supported by records and control activities.
There is a broad array of factors that Registrants may consider when establishing their own criteria for assessing likelihood of appeal to minors. Some examples include but are not limited to:
- The demographic composition of the individual’s following or fan base;
- An assessment of data on audience demographics; and
- Whether the individual has obvious or direct links to activities that are popular with minors (e.g., gained or enhanced their notoriety for being in a film that has appeal to children).
Minors are considered to be those under the legal age for gaming in Ontario (i.e., 19 years of age for casino gaming and sports betting on igaming sites). A number of requirements in the Standard, as well as other Registrar’s Standards, work together to address advertising and marketing obligations to protect minors. The AGCO’s Registrar’s Interim Standards and Requirements for Liquor have similar restrictions. The AGCO also recognizes that potential appeal is dynamic and varies by individual. As such, targeting young adults in advertising and marketing campaigns may carry greater risk of potential appeal to minors and it is expected that Registrants will take extra caution in doing so.
Role models, social media influencers, celebrities and entertainers include those individuals with a degree of notoriety and/or familiarity who may persuade others. The term “social media influencer” includes individuals active on social media who may be known by different terms (e.g., bloggers, streamers, or content creators). The intent is that persons or characters with a public presence that is likely appealing to minors, regardless of the type of individual, should not be used.
While the AGCO is aware that there is interest in a prescriptive definition, such as a minimum number of followers that a person might have, the Registrant’s judgement or assessment needs to focus on an individual’s appeal to minors.
The AGCO is aware that the igaming environment is constantly evolving, as are operator advertising and marketing strategies. We encourage Registrants to take a cautious approach and to assess the risks of using certain individuals.
For greater clarity on Requirement 4:
The Standard is intended to restrict the use of recognized or known, active or retired individual athletes, as they are considered to appeal to minors. The intent of the Standard is to capture individuals who gained notoriety as an athlete.
For greater clarity, ‘athlete’ refers to but is not limited to professional and amateur athletes.
- A few illustrative examples include players in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League Soccer, the Premier League, and Olympians.
- This requirement is broad. It encompasses a wide range of athletes from various sports and would include examples such as eSports, darts, and bowling.
- This Standard does not capture casual participants in local sports who are not recognized or known as athletes.
Requirement 4 is intended to address the use of athletes in advertising and marketing materials. Provided that all other requirements of the Standard are met, requirement 4 is not intended to prevent the use of:
- Game footage.
- Operator logo placements, for example, on helmets or jerseys.
- The sponsorship of teams by operators.
Responsible gambling is a central aspect of the regulated igaming market. To that end, the use of athletes, whose influence and appeal extend to a wide audience, remains permitted in advertising and marketing for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices. For greater clarity, despite the restriction on the use of role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors under requirement 3, the use of athletes who may also be considered to fit within one of these categories is permitted for “the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices” as set out in requirement 4.
Advocating for responsible gambling practices could include but is not limited to, educational content, information on the signs of problem gambling, accessing services, and responsible gambling controls such as voluntary breaks in play, self-exclusion, and financial and time-based limits.
Materials that feature athletes must only be for the “exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices”. This means that materials:
- Shall not portray gambling as appealing or fun;
- Shall not teach individuals how to gamble;
- Must ensure that responsible gambling is the focus of the advertisement for its duration, and not merely mentioned in passing; and
- May use an operator brand.
All other requirements and standards must be met with respect to any advertising and marketing activities.
With reference to agreements or arrangements made directly or indirectly between an athlete and an operator for advertising and marketing activities (not including those for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices):
- Requirement 4 prohibits advertising and marketing activities where there is agreement in which athletes, whether active or retired, act on behalf of an operator or promote a brand.
- This requirement is intended to capture those situations where there is a direct contractual relationship between two parties or an indirect relationship where the contract is established through an agent or third party.
- Provided that other requirements are met, the intent of the Standard is not to capture individuals who are being used in broadcasts or podcasts for editorial content or commentary, or to offer sports expertise, gameplay analysis or sports betting commentary, provided they are not doing so pursuant to an agreement with an operator.
With reference to out-of-province advertisements:
- The AGCO recognizes that there are practical limitations on Registrants with respect to Ontario broadcasters displaying out-of-province advertisements which may not meet the Registrar’s Standards.
- The AGCO will continue to work with Registrants to address the matter, in order to minimize impacts.
- The AGCO expects Registrants to continue to take reasonable measures to meet the Registrar’s Standards.
For greater clarity on Requirement 8:
- Regarding “measures shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players”, the previous term “precautions” was changed to “measures” to ensure Registrants have a plan in place and that it includes a specific course of action.
- The intent of the requirement remains the same, which is to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players.
Please note that this information does not replace legal advice and all examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. Registrants are encouraged to seek independent legal counsel to fully understand their responsibilities as a registered internet gaming operator or supplier.
The Registrar’s Standards apply to all igaming Registrants in Ontario and apply to advertising and marketing that appears in Ontario. The AGCO continues to monitor the rollout of the igaming market carefully and proactively. This includes reviewing the advertising and marketing practices of Registrants, with a focus on high standards of responsible gambling and player protection. We expect Registrants to continue to put their best foot forward, as demonstrated since the launch of the market.
The updates to the Standard will come into effect on February 28, 2024. The AGCO is here to support regulated entities to understand the Registrar’s Standards and ensure that obligations are met. We remain committed to creating a safe, competitive, and well-regulated igaming environment for the people of Ontario.