Ontario NDP Proposes Positive Changes for Online Gambling
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Ontario recently began permitting private companies to host online sports betting, which has since grown rapidly in popularity. In response, four NDP MPPs have introduced a bill (Bill 126) that seeks to curb the social harms of gambling, particularly in relation to online gaming advertisements.
A lot of people mess up their lives by getting into gambling. But many people believe gambling can be done responsibly and should be permitted. It can also generate a lot of revenue for governments.
Gambling is nothing new, but current technologies make it easier to engage in it, anytime and anyplace. Government prohibition or regulation of gambling also goes back a long way. Federal law says organized gambling is generally not allowed in Canada unless it is provincially licensed. Federal law also places parameters on what types of gambling provinces may permit, and how.
The Ontario Lottery Corporation, now known as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), was created by the Ontario government in 1975 to regulate gambling and raise funds for public projects in the province. In 2021/22, OLG accounted for over $1.5 billion in revenue for the government of Ontario, with an estimated 60% of Ontario adults using OLG’s products annually.
Looking at internet gaming in particular, OLG’s customer base grew from an average of 31,000 per month in 2017/18 to nearly 257,000 per month in 2021/22. Until 2022, OLG had a monopoly on online gaming, and private providers were not allowed to operate in Ontario.
In 2022, the province opened up the market to private online gaming providers. The province created iGaming Ontario to provide a framework and oversight for these businesses. Ontario is the first and (so far) only province to launch a legalized online gambling market that private businesses may participate in. At the time, the government stated that “Ontarians spend close to $1 billion a year on online gambling with an estimated 70 percent taking place on unregulated, grey market websites, with limited, if any, consumer protection and responsible gaming measures.”
In its first year, iGaming Ontario reported $1.4 billion in revenue from sports gambling and online casino gambling. The government of Ontario collects 20% of that revenue, amounting to nearly $300 million. The argument is that a regulated online betting industry provides better protections for gamblers by ensuring that businesses follow provincial requirements such as game transparency, timely payout of winnings, and secure personal data collection. In addition to the revenue for the province and the supposedly greater protection for gamblers, the Ontario government touted its policy change as good for jobs and businesses, stating that it had generated 1,800 new jobs in the province.
Another major change to online gambling took place in 2021, when the federal government passed legislation to legalize single-event sports betting and permitted provinces to regulate such activity. Single-event sports betting itself is estimated to be a $14 billion industry in Canada. The recent legalization of single-event sports betting, in conjunction with Ontario’s regulated gambling market, has led to increased popularity of sports gambling in the province.
If you watch sports in Ontario, you likely see betting advertisements from several companies during a single game. These ads are now easily as common as burger, beer, or truck commercials, with nearly 9 minutes of sports betting ads during a single game in the 2023 NHL playoffs.
One writer recently called sports betting the ‘new oxycontin’ because of its addictiveness and the way the industry profits off the addiction of others. He notes that “gambling addicts, unlike alcoholics and drug addicts, can solve the problems created by their gambling – by doing more of it.” Or at least so it might seem. Even if you’re in debt by a few hundred thousand dollars, just one big win can make up for it. And the ease of placing a bet online makes it easier to become addicted and to stay addicted.
On a practical level, sports betting can cause problems for fair competition in sports, with one sports ethicist calling it a bigger issue than doping or using performance-enhancing drugs. For example, in April, the NFL suspended five players for gambling on sports, with three of those players were found to have made bets on NFL games. It may be tempting for athletes to manipulate a game they are involved in, either to win a bet themselves, or because of influence from other gamblers.
Back to the Ontario Legislature
We mentioned the Ontario NDP’s Bill 126 earlier. The bill is titled the Ban iGaming Advertising Act and it would do just that, prohibiting the promotion of online gambling sites through advertising, with the threat of penalties ranging from $25,000 to $1 million.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which regulates gambling in the province through iGaming Ontario, recently acknowledged the problems with advertising as well. The AGCO has proposed that athletes should not be permitted to promote gambling sites, since athlete endorsement greatly influences children. Additionally, the AGCO suggests that the government should “prohibit the use of cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities or entertainers who are reasonably expected to appeal to minors.”
In response to the AGCO’s proposal, the Canadian Mental Health Association, among others, urged the AGCO to “prohibit all advertising for igaming due to the detrimental impact it has on youth, vulnerable individuals, and families.” They cite one survey which found that students reporting that they had bet money on online gambling platforms increased from 4% in 2019 to 15% in 2021. Because of the constant availability of online gambling formats and the constant barrage of advertising, it is also much more likely to lead to addiction.
The Ontario government may be focused on the goals of collecting revenue, creating jobs, and implementing protection for both businesses and consumers. But the government should not ignore the detrimental effects of gambling on society, particularly as it becomes easier to access and is promoted and popularized. According to Statistics Canada, over 300,000 Canadians were at moderate-to-severe risk of problem gambling in 2018 – years before iGaming started. While there are supposedly measures in place to help prevent gambling addiction, it remains a significant problem that can lead to marital breakdown, financial hardship, suicide, crime, reduced health, and increased use of alcohol and other substances. Government cannot wash its hands of the harm while collecting gaming revenues and allowing the proliferation of the industry despite the costs. Those already struggling with poverty are among those most at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
What Can You Do?
As Christians, we have reasons to object both to the practice and public promotion of gambling. We understand that we are called to be good stewards of our God-given resources, including money. If a person wins a bet, they do so at another’s expense. We ought to have a proper attitude towards money, not coveting it, but engaging in honest work to provide for our financial needs. Discouraging Christians from gambling is one thing. But how should we engage in a public debate about gambling policy? Keeping in view the good of our neighbours may lead us to support government measures to reduce the personal, familial, and societal problems associated with gambling.
While Bill 126 does not create any restrictions on online gambling per se, it is an important bill that recognizes the negative impact advertisements for online gambling can have and seeks to restrict the constant endorsement of online gambling. If you live in Ontario, send an EasyMail to your MPP to encourage them to support Bill 126 when it comes to a vote.