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Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Ryan Burr throws a pitch as we look at Canadian sportsbook advertising
Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Ryan Burr throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles during the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Photo by Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

The subject of sports betting advertising in Canada moved to a new phase this week with lawmakers openly discussing ways of possibly curtailing its impacts on sports bettors and general sports fans, as there has been occasional murmurs that some of the best sports betting sites are advertising too much.

On Wednesday, Canada's Senate held its second meeting of the week of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to discuss Bill S-269, otherwise known as the National Framework on Advertising for Sports Betting Act. 

It is a Bill that, in theory, attempts to address the saturation of sports betting advertising through media in the Canadian market. Some are in favor of regulating such advertising practices going forward. Others are in favor of banning sports betting advertising altogether. As it stands right now, from coast to coast you can see sports betting advertising, but the only legal market can be found in the Ontario sports betting scene.

While there is certainly no consensus on which solution would be best for Canadians, there is obvious agreement that there needs to be a set of guidelines for the best sportsbooks in Canada.

Desire to get something done

Legislative hearings on sports betting advertising in Canada come just two months after a Maru Public Opinion survey on how Canadians feel about the abundance of sportsbook advertising through media channels across the country.

The first line of the report released by Maru read, "A Maru Public Opinion survey finds seven in 10 (68%) of Canadians want current team players and celebrities banned from sports betting ads, two thirds (66%) say sports betting commercials should not be allowed during live sports games/events, and a majority (59%) believe a nationwide ban on sports betting commercials needs to be implemented right away." 

The study also found that 72% of Canadians fear that many young adults will go deep into debt with online sports betting available, that a majority (62%) of Canadians believe sports betting owners are not acting responsibly with their ads and marketing and that most (53%) Canadians say sports betting needs more government oversight and regulation than there is now.

Campaign to Ban Advertising for Gambling

The Campaign to Ban Advertising for Gambling is one group that identified the red flags associated with the amount of sportsbook advertising in the Canadian market. 

Headed up by Bruce Kidd, his committee identified what he called a "tsunami" of sportsbook advertising in the market and called out the government for a "huge failure" in not identifying or regulating the effects of that tsunami.

In the Senate meeting Wednesday, Kidd claimed that “The federal government must assume responsibility for this situation which they’ve created.” He went on to say that “The most effective strategy of public health harm reduction is to ban the ads.”

Kidd’s claims were backed up by Steve Joordens, a spokesperson for the Canadian Psychological Association which cited “weaponizing psychology” which is being used by sports betting providers and media in order to realize their goals of promoting what has proven to be an addictive pastime.

Joordens likened sports betting to other addictive products that are prohibited from advertising on any form of Canadian media, “If we are going to allow gambling, we must ban any marketing of gambling as we do other products like cigarettes and cannabis,” he said in the meeting.

Uphill climb for prohibition

Despite apparent support by some Senators to see the end of sportsbook advertising on Canadian media outlets and by the Canadian public which has reacted to sports betting advertising saturation in the Maru public opinion poll, banning such ads from the best sports betting apps in Canada faces a steep uphill climb.

Ontario Sen. Marty Deacon May have said it best in Wednesday's meeting when he commented that, “If the government wants to pursue a full ban, I and so many others would love that. We just didn’t think this bill would survive a constitutional challenge if we sought a complete ban and didn’t want perfect to be the enemy of good.”

A ban would require agreement among the Canadian Federal government and individual provinces as well. Keep in mind that just Ontario currently has the only Canadian multi-operator legal sports betting platform, although there are discussions happening in Western Canada that a legal Alberta sports betting may come in the not-too-distant future. Such sports betting has not even been legalized in Canada’s other provinces, which makes the fight against a total advertising ban somewhat of a moot point.

What is legal and what is not, according to some, should be a primary focus of a nationwide framework suggested in Bill S-269. As Will Hill, the executive director for the Canadian Lottery Coalition said about any nationwide initiative to ban sports betting advertising, “After all, if a particular operator is not legally able to take wagers in a certain province, why should they be allowed to advertise there?”

The questions remain

Will sportsbook advertising in the Canadian market ever be regulated? Will polling about the saturation of sports betting operator exposure be at least curtailed in the Canadian market? Or will there at least be some restrictions in place for operators including Ontario sports betting apps?

Canada's governmental focus on the issue is certainly promising for the pro-ban side. And so is the possibility of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) getting involved. The CRTC controls just what content makes its way onto Canadian airwaves.

The CRTC has banned tobacco advertising in the past and has had a say on just how alcohol companies get their message across to Canadians.

All eyes will be on the politician's response to the increasing focus on sports betting advertising and the potential harm it could create among problem gamblers and those not of age to place a wager in Canada.

The story is far from over and has many chapters to write, perhaps in the next few months ahead.