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TORONTO — The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario has banned the use of athletes in the advertising and marketing of internet gaming in Ontario.

The AGCO announced Tuesday it has updated the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming to prohibit the use of athletes. It also strengthened the standards to restrict the use of celebrities who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.

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The new restrictions will come into effect Feb. 28, 2024.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, track star Andre DeGrasse and current NHL stars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are among the athletes who have appeared in ads for gambling sites.

“Children and youth are heavily influenced by the athletes and celebrities they look up to,” Tom Mungham, the AGCO’s registrar and CEO, said in a statement., “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 restrictions aren’t surprising. In April, the AGCO held consultations on its proposal for the ban and receive submissions from a host of stakeholders, including public- and mental-health organizations, gambling experts, gaming operations and the public.

In its report Tuesday, the AGCO said its proposal “comes after significant criticism from advocates, experts and parents about the notable rise of online gambling advertisements, especially during live sports.

“For example, during a 2023 playoff series game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers, nearly eight and a half minutes of advertisements were dedicated to online sport gambling.”

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Sports betting became legal in Canada in August, 2021. Ontario became the first province to launch an open, regulated igaming market in April 2022.

Ontario operators can’t advertise or provide marketing materials outlining gambling inducements, bonuses and credits. However before Tuesday’s announcement, there were no limits regarding how much they could advertise overall, prompting many to enlist big-name athletes as ambassadors and spend millions on advertising campaigns.

Critics of gambling advertising included Conservative MP Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon-Grasswood), whose private member’s bill ultimately led to the amending of the Canadian Criminal Code and legalization of single-game sports betting.

“I think the irritant is the ads,” Waugh told The Canadian Press in April on the Ontario industry’s first-year anniversary. “People are really upset with that, I get it.”

The AGCO said the standards will prevent operations from using athletes — active or retired — except “for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices.”

The amended standards 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.”

The AGCO is a provincial regulatory agency that’s responsible for regulating the alcohol, gaming, horse racing and cannabis retail sectors in Ontario. iGaming Ontario (iGO) is a subsidiary of the (AGCO) and conducts and manages internet gaming in the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.

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