When Ontario igaming regulators announced in late August that athletes and celebrities would be banned from appearing in any advertising or marketing that promotes igaming in the province, questions arose.
Does that include Daniel Negreanu?
And ever since the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced on August 29 that it would tighten its rules governing marketing and advertising — effective February 28, 2024 — the regulator has given the same answer.
What Happens Next?
We appreciate that there is confusion as to who is considered a celebrity or an active or retired athlete. The answer is a frustrating one, for sure. After all, real money online poker in Ontario has proven to be a scrappy vertical — revenue figures released earlier this month by iGaming Ontario (iGO) show that in Q2, online poker posted higher quarterly increases in wagers and revenue that online casino gaming or sports betting.
Ontario online poker is a market of six active poker rooms across four networks — 888poker Ontario, the BetMGM Poker Ontario Network, GGPoker Ontario/WSOP, and PokerStars Ontario. Although there is no shared liquidity in the province, Entain brands bwin and partypoker share a player pool with BetMGM Poker Ontario to form the eponymously-named network.
Since the future success of Ontario online poker will depend in part on what the AGCO does moving forward, all six operators are paying close attention to any announcements the regulator makes regarding its advertising and marketing rules.
“The amended standards will prohibit the use of athletes, whether active or retired, who have an agreement or arrangement made directly or indirectly with an operator or gaming-related supplier, in advertising and marketing, except for the exclusive purpose of advocating for responsible gambling practices,” AGCO told pokerfuse on September 1.
But the regulator added that its registrar’s standards “do not provide specific designations, such as a classification for 'professional poker players.’
“The objective of a standards-based regulatory model is to guide licensees and registrants toward broader regulatory outcomes they are expected to achieve, rather than to comply with a specific set of rules or processes.”
AGCO said it was engaged with operators “to provide additional guidance as required to assist them with better understanding the standards.”
In subsequent follow-ups, the regulator told pokerfuse on September 6 that it “will be providing additional guidance to operators in the coming weeks,” and on September 21, added that the AGCO is “continuing to review and consider input from stakeholders in developing our guidance. There are no specific updates at this time.”
Or since. But that appears to be changing soon.
According to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), the regulator “will be holding several industry roundtables in early November on the advertising standards, and we hope that further guidance will be available before the end of the year.
“We appreciate that there is confusion as to who is considered a celebrity or an active or retired athlete,” CGA told pokerfuse on Tuesday. “AGCO does not differentiate between different forms of gambling with its standards as they all (casino, poker, and sports betting) fall under 'igaming,’ which means the standards apply universally.”
What Standards Were Changed
Last August, the AGCO amended Standard 2.03, one of its sets of rules that cover marketing and advertising. The standard requires materials and communications must not target high-risk, underage, or self-excluded persons.
The regulator made additions to two existing requirements under Standard 2.03 and made one entirely new requirement.
The AGCO said advertising and marketing for igaming must not “use or contain cartoon figures, symbols, role models, social media influencers, celebrities, or entertainers who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.” Operators also must not “entice or attract potentially high-risk players. Instead, measures shall be in place to limit marketing communications to all known high-risk players.”
Under the new requirement, the AGCO will prohibit the “use of 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.”
The changes were not unexpected. Still, it’s not entirely clear that online poker would be affected. Consider that the most high-profile partnerships mentioned in the media as possible targets are all in the sports betting space:
- Auston Matthews — for Bet99
- Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky — for BetMGM Sports Ontario
- Paul Coffey, Stu Grimson, Mike Vernon, and the Trailer Park Boys — for PointsBet Canada
Whether the future ban will include partnerships between online poker operators and the likes of celebrities … or are they athletes? … like Negreanu (GG Poker Ontario), Arlie Shaban (PokerStars Ontario), Kara Scott (888poker Ontario), and the Staples brothers (partypoker Ontario) remains to be seen.