Baranyai: Ontario’s New Wild West for Sports Betting

Sports betting can be legitimately entertaining, like scratch-off lotto tickets or roulette.

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Today’s commercial television consists of a relentless stream of clever advertisements for online sports betting, punctuated at regular intervals by actual programming. If once-popular daytime dramas were dubbed “soap operas” for their ability to provide a captive demographic target for laundry detergent manufacturers, today’s television programming might be appropriately dubbed “shakedown operas.”

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No disrespect for betting enthusiasts. Sports betting can be legitimately entertaining, like scratch-off lotto tickets or roulette. It is a transactional experience, not an investment plan. Players shell out cash for the adrenaline rush of standing on the edge of winning or losing. Some go rock climbing to experience this rush; trade one day. To each his own.

Online sports betting in Ontario is not new, but it is a brand new regulated market. In April, Ontario became the first province to open single-event sports betting to commercial operators. An unlimited number of platforms can apply for a license through iGaming Ontario, a new subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

The competition for brand loyalty is fierce. Celebrity endorsements poured in through the floodgates.

Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and Wayne Gretzky – whose reputation took a hit following his wife’s involvement with a sports betting ring – are now BetMGM brand ambassadors. The Great One grandiosely mythologizes, “With every tap, a new legend is born.” Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul is buying himself Bet365. Evel Knievel was resurrected for an appearance in DraftKings’ Super Bowl spot.

WynnBET (which isn’t live, but is expected to come to Ontario) bet big on extended advertising with an ensemble cast. Actor-director Ben Affleck and influencer Melvin Gregg pick up some bargains while strolling through the resort town of Wynn, where they meet Jennifer Lopez’s mother and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal (who sold his stake in the Sacramento Kings to partner with the game application). They sell the slogan “betting is a team sport” as if placing bets on your phone is a social experiment.

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Other companies focus on Canadian branding. Rivalry launched an original “Bet on Canada” campaign, engaging social media influencers. NorthStar Bets has teamed up with sports commentator Rod Black. PointsBet Canada opted for the Trailer Park Boys, who swap their skates for their phones, saying, “That’s how you play sports.

It is reassuring to note that there are rules of marketing in this new Far West. Ads may not target underage viewers or self-excluded people who are absent from betting. And they must make available information about gambling risks and set betting limits. Nonetheless, the sheer proliferation of advertising – including on billboards and public transport – has raised concerns about the impact on minors and those struggling with gambling addictions.

In addition to the ubiquitous advertisements harnessing the power of celebrities, many sportsbooks also offer big sign-up bonuses for new customers. These offers can only be promoted via websites or direct marketing – which requires players to register – and not on TV or social media. The AGCO recently fined DraftKings for violating these rules. The regulator also fined PointsBet for advertising free play on GO Transit and BetMGM for claiming that “the more money you put in per bet, the more chances you have of winning”.

The provincial jackpot is still unknown. Industry analysis estimates that online betting will generate $989 million in gross revenue in its first year. Another, prepared for the casino industry, predicts provincial revenues could fall by $550 million as casino customers shift to online betting, which is taxed at a lower rate.

Analysts can debate how much money can flow from casinos to sports betting, or from offshore betting. One thing that no one debates is this: the house always wins.

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