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How Connor McDavid appeared in sports gambling ad despite Ontario ban

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Edmonton Oilers’ star player has become the face of how ‘not to get carried away’ when it comes to sports gambling

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As of the end of February, athletes and celebrities are no longer allowed to appear in advertising campaigns for internet gaming and gambling in Ontario.

The new standards from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) are intended to “protect minors and reduce the potential harm associated with igaming advertising.”

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There’s one caveat, however. Athletes, whether active or retired, are permitted to appear in campaigns that advocate for “responsible gambling practices.”

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Hockey superstar Connor McDavid, who previously appeared alongside Wayne Gretzky in an advertisement promoting gambling, has now become the face of responsible gambling in Ontario. Here’s what to know.

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How does Connor McDavid legally promote gambling?

Despite a regulatory backdrop in Ontario that restricts athletes from appearing in gambling-related advertisements, the Edmonton Oilers’ star player continues to appear in commercials for BetMGM, a sports betting and online gaming platform.

Released in March, the ad opens with McDavid telling a friend that “BetMGM has responsible gambling tools so you so you don’t get carried away.” The friend responds that he “never gets carried away,” before a montage of his others interests show otherwise, including a house full of bobbleheads, a playoff beard that would make Joe Thornton jealous and backyard ice rink complete with its own Zamboni.

The ad closes with a voiceover noting that “MGM has committed to making gambling safe and fun with responsible gambling tools so you don’t get carried away.”

His appearances are used to promote tools designed to prevent excessive gambling, such as setting betting limits, self-exclusion programs and time-out features. These tools, and other responsible gambling initiatives, aim to provide a safer gambling environment by allowing users to manage their gambling behaviours proactively.

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Why did the gambling promotion rules change?

Ontario’s updated regulations aim to balance the visibility and appeal of gambling with concerns over its potential harm.

“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” Tom Mungham, CEO of AGCO said last August. “We’re therefore increasing measures to protect Ontario’s youth by disallowing the use of these influential figures to promote online betting in Ontario.”

The amendments were made following the first year of Ontario’s open, regulated igaming market. The AGCO launched consultations on its proposal to ban such ads last April and received submissions from mental health and public health organizations, responsible gambling experts, gaming operators, broadcast and marketing groups and the public.

The amendments also restrict the use of celebrities, role models, social media influencers, entertainers, cartoon figures, and symbols that “would likely be expected to appeal to minors.”

What other athletes appeared in gambling ads?

McDavid and Gretzky are far from the only athletes or celebrities who have promoted gambling and the trend is not limited to Ontario, or even North America.

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NBA legends Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley have been featured in ads for various casinos and online betting platforms. Retired NFL stars Eli and Peyton Manning have featured in advertisements for Caesars Sportsbook, while soccer icons like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. have endorsed sports betting platforms or online poker sites.

Ad campaigns for sports betting have exploded in recent years, with some fans calling for a separation between gambling and athletics.

Last month, in an example of how deeply embedded sports betting has become, the NBA launched an investigation into Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter for “multiple instances of betting irregularities over the past several months.”

An AGCO spokesman told the Canadian Press on March 27 that it was closely following the investigation, including engaging with registered gaming operators, independent integrity monitors and the Ontario Provincial Police.

“Since the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits cheating while playing a game or betting with intent to defraud someone, provincial police will determine if any criminal investigation is warranted,” CP reported.

Speaking to ESPN, which broke the story, Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković said he’d “never had a situation like this before.”

“I just know nobody wants those kind of situations to happen to anybody, to any team,” he added. “We’ve just got to deal with it.”

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