Action needed to regulate sports-betting advertisements, expert says

Experts say provincial and federal governments in Canada need to do more to push against the wave of betting advertisements.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recently published a report, which pointed to an influx of betting ads, in particular for sports, which are becoming more and more common. In the report, the organization is calling for a national strategy to address the harms of gambling.

The study shows repeatedly pairing sports with betting and featuring celebrity endorsements normalizes gambling, leading people to think of it as an integral part of sports. It also said many Canadians are more vulnerable to gambling-related harms because of a rise in the cost of living.

Matthew Young, a senior research associate with the centre, said in 2021 that there was a change of polices in Canada, from previously only allowing betting on a series of games to now permitting bets on single events. He believes policies like these, without framework for regulating sports betting advertisements, have changed the nature of sports betting.

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“Every time you turn on the TV or every time you watch a sporting match, your, you’re presented with gambling ad after gambling ad, and those gambling ads have even made their way into commentary, during the sport sporting event,” he said.

“It’s on social media, so … it’s very much everywhere.”

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Young said there is a social cost to gambling and thinks without regulation changes from governments surrounding promotion, the public will see the impacts.

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“The public is going to have to pay for the treatment costs to treat people who suffer from gambling addiction,” he said. “We’re going to have to pay for or absorb the lost productivity costs associated with people who take their own lives from a gambling-related suicide. We’re going to have to absorb the costs associated with gambling bankruptcies.

“Governments need to understand this is not free money. This is short-term money. You’re kind of taking out a mortgage… you’re paying for it later in the social costs that are coming later, which are largely unknown but are significant.”

According to Mental Health Research Canada, seven per cent of Canadians present a high risk of problem gambling, with a higher rate of 15 per cent among those aged 18-34.

Those who present as at high risk of problem gambling are more likely to face severe mental health issues, including 22 per cent having planned a suicide attempt, and show higher rates of alcohol (38 per cent) and cannabis (49 per cent) dependency compared to non-gamblers.

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Young said one of the things that the national strategy needs to include is adequate funding for gambling treatment, gambling harm reduction and research on gambling related harms and how to, prevent or mitigate those.

The authority to manage gambling is currently a provincial and territorial responsibility and Young said the plan would need to be done as a collaboration between the provinces and territories.

He added there’s a bill before the Senate he hopes gets approved, looking at a framework for regulating sports betting advertising in Canada. Young said the proposal aligns very closely with what the CCSA are proposing in the report.

Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns said though he understands concerns around gambling, there are already “robust” standards surrounding sports betting advertisements around the images they put forward and even the ages of actors used to limit or outright prevent appeal to minors.

Leagues and broadcasters have also put their own policies in place, he said, so that they can still interact with wagers in sport and still have their product be available to fans of all ages.

“Everybody has been leaning in to make sure they’re getting it right,” Burns told Global News in an interview. “No one wants to target minors, no one is intentionally targeting minors, and the gambling is a part of our society. It is normalized behaviour.”

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