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Can a Senate bill to regulate sports betting ads reach the finish line in this Parliament? | CBC News



Can a Senate bill to regulate sports betting ads reach the finish line in this Parliament? | CBC News

A senator’s push to curtail the unchecked promotion of sports betting is working its way through the legislative process, with the aim of establishing a national framework for regulating these services.

In broad strokes, the legislation would require Ottawa to set limits on advertising — including possible measures to curb how much of it reaches Canadians — and also national standards for preventing problem gambling. But with an election on the horizon, it still has a long way to go before reaching the finish line. 

“It’s a long haul,” said Senator Marty Deacon, who introduced Bill S-269, which recently passed second reading in the Senate — its text unchanged from first reading.

Canada legalized single-event sports betting in 2021. That effort gave provinces the green light to develop private markets for these services, but so far, only Ontario has taken that step.

Yet the shift to legalization led to a deluge of gambling-related advertising, with one CBC investigation finding that gambling messages filled up to 21 per cent of each broadcast, on average. That flood of marketing has irked some sports fans and it’s among the factors prompting Deacon to get the ball rolling on regulating the ads.

WATCH | Should gambling ads during sports broadcasts be limited? 

Should gambling messages during sports broadcasts be limited?

A new study from CBC’s Marketplace and researchers in the U.K. finds that sports fans are exposed to gambling advertisements about three times a minute during a sports broadcast.

Deacon, a member of the Independent Senators Group, said the push to legalize gambling took several attempts to become a reality, playing out across the span of multiple Parliaments. But that legislation didn’t address the advertising blitz that has ensued, which Deacon believes must be reined in.

She and other critics have raised concerns over its impact on youth, and also on those who might develop issues with problem gambling.

Brian Masse, a New Democrat MP who advocated for the legalization of sports betting, said it would have been preferable to have “a more comprehensive approach to this from the get-go,” but he approves of the Senate’s efforts to deal with the issue.

Following in Ontario’s footsteps?

Ontario launched its regulated market for sports betting and online gambling in April 2022.

Today, Ontarians are placing billions of dollars in wagers each year — via poker and casino sites, as well as sports betting. 

Sports betting represents only a fraction of these wagers, but this segment of the gambling industry has nonetheless drawn a lot of media scrutiny — the advertising push, in particular, for its intensity and its presence in markets where the advertised services aren’t regulated.

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Island Morning6:59Gambling ads are everywhere. This P.E.I. senator wants limits on them.

Charlottetown Senator Percy Downe is promoting legislation to require the federal government to control sports betting advertisements that are everywhere you look, online and on television. It would also develop a national framework to alleviate problem gambling.

But Ontario has made adjustments to its regulations since the launch of the legal market — and that has included putting restrictions on how gambling firms can advertise their services

Initially, athletes past and present, including Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, appeared in ads promoting online gambling. But the provincial regulator concluded their presence in ads posed a risk to those under the legal gaming age and eventually banned athletes — as well as other celebrities and influencers. 

Despite Ontario tightening its regulations, McDavid is still appearing in ads for BetMGM. But in the new spots, the hockey superstar is shown advocating for responsible gambling. Deacon recently told a Senate committee that exceptions like these amount to “a truck-sized loophole” in the regulations.

Masse is critical of how the province proceeded with legalized sports gambling.

“For me, Ontario blew it,” he said, noting the province could have gradually introduced its legal market.

“Instead they just opened the spigot.” 

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario told CBC News via email that it has “committed to continuously assessing the [market] landscape to effectively address new or emerging risks to Ontarians,” since the launch of the legal market.

The Peace Tower is pictured from the roof of the Centre Block during a media tour of the Centre Block restoration project on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 22, 2023.
The clock is ticking on the remaining time for Canada’s 44th Parliament to pass the legislation seeking to regulate advertising for sports betting, with roughly 16 months until the election (unless it’s called sooner). So far, the bill has passed second reading in the Senate, but has yet to reach the House of Commons. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Limited time for Parliament to pass bill

There’s roughly 16 months left in the current Parliament if the election occurs on schedule in October 2025.

But two summer breaks, this year and next, reduce the runway to move S-269 through the Senate and then the House of Commons.

When an election is called and Parliament is dissolved, legislation that is in progress dies.

Deacon says she believes the bill must reach the House by Christmas if it’s to be passed by the current Parliament, but she says there’s “a general support” for the legislation.

WATCH | Has sports betting gone too far in Canada?: 

Sports betting has gone full throttle, but has it gone too far?

Since 2021, when federal legislation loosened up the rules around sports betting, Ontario has gone full throttle, creating what many have called a Wild West gambling environment. CBC’s Jamie Strashin explores how single-game betting has changed the game for some fans and why addiction experts are worried.

The NDP’s Masse said legislators are familiar with the advertising issue, and that could be key in getting MPs engaged once the bill reaches the House.

“The issue is going to be well-understood by MPs of all political stripes,” said Masse, who said he’d recommend to his caucus that it support acting on the advertising issue.

The governing Liberals say they’re “looking forward” to seeing the bill reach the House.

“We know that many Canadians are concerned about the financial, mental health and addiction impacts of online gambling advertising, especially on young people,” said Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, in an emailed statement to CBC News.

“We are aware of Senator Deacon’s Bill, which seeks to set a national standard for these ads, similar to regulations regulating tobacco and alcohol ads. We are following the Senate debate closely and looking forward to examining it when it is introduced in the House.” 

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Trevor Bauer is seen throwing toward home plate during a June 4 game against the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre.
An ad for a sports betting app is seen in the background as Blue Jays pitcher Trevor Richards plays in a June 4 game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. (John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports)

A spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois said the party would study the bill when it arrives in the House.

Debra Eindiguer, the chief of staff for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, said the party caucus still needs time to discuss the bill.

Requests for comment from Rob Moore, the Conservative justice critic, and the three independent MPs in Parliament, were not returned by publication time.

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