Ontario's New Gambling-Related Ban Hurts NHL Players
Photo Credit 
With the growing popularity of online sports betting, the opposition also grows louder. Ontario is the newest province to join the playing field, legalizing single-game sports betting in April 2022.
However, a lot is set to change with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s (“AGCO”) new addition to Regulation 2.03, which places restrictions on athletes in internet gaming advertising and marketing.
The AGCO’s newest standard, which goes into effect February 28, 2024, reads:
“At a minimum, materials and communications shall not: … (4) 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.”
Canadian parents spearheaded the “Ban Ads for Gambling” campaign, advocating advertisements promoting gambling should be controlled similarly to other “dangerous and addictive” addictions. The campaign focuses on how athletes are role models who should not endorse unhealthy habits like gambling, along with information about the dangers of gambling addictions. Following Ontario’s regulatory change, the campaign now looks to spread reform across the entirety of Canada.
While sports betting became legal in the United States in 2018 following the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, Canada legalized single-sports betting in 2021 by amending the nation’s criminal code. Since its legalization, the market has flooded with sponsorships between teams and gambling companies.
The NHL itself has numerous partnerships with large gaming companies such as FanDuel, MGM Resorts, Betway, Bally’s Corp., PointsBet, DraftKings, and William Hill. Additionally, gambling-associated brands, especially casinos, have had on-ice branding as well as advertising throughout NHL facilities, stadiums, and concourse areas for years.
For example, before the 2023-24 season, the Edmonton Oilers added PlayAlberta, Alberta’s only regulated online gambling website with a full sportsbook for major leagues, as a sponsor on home game helmets. Likewise, in 2021, the Washington Capitals signed a multi-year sponsorship with Caesars Sportsbook, which included a specialty Caesars patch on players’ jerseys, which reportedly provides the franchise $6 million annually.
Moreover, the Oilers play in Edmonton’s “ICE district” which connects the rink to the Grand Villa Casino. Similarly, the Philadelphia Flyers’ stadium, Wells Fargo Center, is within the same complex as Live! Casino + Hotel, which features its own FanDuel sportsbook lounge.
The Toronto Maple Leafs entered into a partnership with Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (“OLG”) at the start of the 2022 season after they became the first official sportsbook partner in Canada. However, some of the NHL’s top players have also directly benefited, signing sponsorship deals with players when permitted by the professional leagues and players’ associations.
For instance, shortly after announcing its deal with the Leafs, OLG announced Maple Leafs captain John Tavares as an ambassador for OLG’s “Proline,” an online sports betting brand, making him the first major league athlete to sign with OLG. Additionally, Connor McDavid (with BetMGM) and Auston Matthews (with Bet99) each signed multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals boosting the players’ off-ice annual salaries to $4.5 million and $3.6 million, respectively. For reference, the next seven highest-paid NHL players behind McDavid and Matthews all have off-ice annual salaries that are less than $250,000 each.
Therefore, considering the established and growing prominence of sports betting advertisements across the NHL, United States, and Canada in general, Ontario’s new regulation may cause the most harm to these professional NHLers, who have or would be interested in securing an individual sponsorship with one of the major sports gambling companies.
Even if players no longer acted or were permitted to work as spokespeople for gambling brands, they would still represent sports betting operators in their rinks, on their jerseys and helmets, and their arenas would continue to advertise casinos, betting platforms, and gambling agencies.
In response to the concerns regarding gambling’s addictive nature, the NFL, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NBA, WNBA, NHL, NBCUniversal, and FOX banded together to create the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising with the mission to create advisories and limitations to impose more responsibility on sports betting advertisements. The coalition defined guidelines requiring advertising be marketed to adults of a legal betting age, not promote irresponsible gambling, or be misleading as well as require good taste, appropriate internal reviews, and address consumer complaints. These regulations would be a stronger deterrent to the fears of influencing children or enabling gambling addictions as they would address the issue and offer support, rather than hide the problem.
Rather than trying to block out individual advertisements for players, addressing the issue with guidelines, such as the Coalition’s mission, would have a stronger solution to the proposed problem.  Ultimately, Ontario’s ban will directly hurt athletes' chances for off-ice sponsorships, and not solve the root of the problem at hand.
 Image retrieved from https://westfaironline.com/advertising/wayne-gretzky-and-connor-mcdavid-star-in-betmgms-new-commercial/  Dan Ralph. 1st year of Ontario sports betting generated over $1.48B, IGo report shows (15 Jun 2023) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-sports-betting-1.6877202  AGCO Communications. AGCO to ban athletes in Ontario’s igaming advertising to protect minors (29 Aug 2023) https://www.agco.ca/blog/lottery-and-gaming/aug-2023/agco-ban-athletes-ontarios-igaming-advertising-protect-minors  Id.  BanAdsForGambling.ca. About Us. https://www.banadsforgambling.ca/about  Id.  Id.  Brad Shirley. Canada Sports Betting 2023 – Top Online Sports Betting Sites (20 Oct 2023) https://www.legalsportsreport.com/canada/#:~:text=Yes%2C%20sports%20betting%20is%20legal,allow%20single%2Dgame%20sports%20betting.  Matt Bonesteel. Sports betting timeline: From Las Vegas to the Supreme Court (29 Aug 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/08/29/history-of-sports-gambling/  Greg Warren. OLG Becomes NHL’s First Official Sportsbook Partner in Canada (9 Mar 2022) https://sportshandle.com/olg-nhl-partnership-proline/  Luke Turner, supra.  Adam Laskaris. Oilers debut a new sponsor on their home helmets (25 Sept 2023) https://dailyhive.com/edmonton/oilers-helmet-sponsor  Sam Carp. Washington Capitals claim NHL first with Caesars jersey patch deal (27 Sep 2021) https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/washington-capitals-caesars-sportsbook-jersey-patch-sponsorship/?zephr_sso_ott=8qEDjq  Global News. Rogers Place opens: a closer look at the venues inside the facility (8 Sept 2016) https://globalnews.ca/video/2928912/rogers-place-opens-a-closer-look-at-the-venues-inside-the-facility  Anthony Coppola. Here’s what to expect when Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia opens (15 Jan 2021) https://www.thedailyjournal.com/story/news/local/2021/01/15/live-casino-hotel-philadelphia/6651225002/  Luke Turner. The relationship between Canadian hockey and casino sponsorship (12 Apr 2023) https://thewincolumn.ca/2023/04/12/the-relationship-between-canadian-hockey-and-casino-sponsorship/  Brant James. MLB Players Allowed to Sign Sports Betting Deals Under CBA That Ended Lockout (18 Mar 2022) https://www.playusa.com/professional-leagues-allow-players-sportsbook-ambassadors/  The Canadian Press. Maple Leafs captain Tavares named ambassador for OLG’s Proline (9 Nov 2023) https://globalnews.ca/news/9265978/john-tavares-olg-proline-ambassador/  Brett Knight. Highest-Paid NHL Players 2022: Young Stars Are Making The Most of Hockey’s Harsh Reality (5 Oct 2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettknight/2022/10/05/highest-paid-nhl-players-2022-young-stars-are-making-the-most-of-hockeys-hard-reality/?sh=242f1ce611bc  Id.  NBA Communications. Formation of Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising announced (19 Apr 2023) https://pr.nba.com/coalition-for-responsible-sports-betting-advertising/.  Id.  BanAdsForGambling.ca, supra.  NBA Communications, supra.